California Channel Islands Foxes No Longer Endangered

Published March 30, 2016

On February 12, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed removing the San Miguel, Santa Rose, and Santa Cruz fox subspecies from the Endangered Species List and downgrading the Santa Catalina Island fox from “endangered” to “threatened” status.

The four fox subspecies native to the California Channel Islands were listed as endangered in 2004 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) after researchers reported population declines of over 90 percent.

Recovery Strategies

Since 2004, FWS has spearheaded efforts to recover the island fox populations, including relocating non-native golden eagles from the northern Channel Islands, vaccinating foxes against canine distemper, and breeding foxes in captivity and then releasing them into the wild. FWS undertook these steps as part of a coalition with the National Park Service, Nature Conservancy, and the Catalina Island Conservancy, who combined, own all of the land occupied by the fox subspecies in question.

“The speed at which these subspecies have recovered points to the strength of the ESA in focusing conservation attention and catalyzing recovery actions, and demonstrating what we can achieve working together,” said Dan Ashe, FWS’s director, in a statement.

ESA Superfluous to Recovery

Because the Channel Islands where foxes live are either federally owned or owned by non-profit conservation organizations devoted to protecting the islands’ unique ecosystems, critics of ESA note it was not necessary to help them to recover.

Brian Seasholes, director of the Endangered Species Project at the Reason Foundation, says FWS is trying to mislead the public into believing ESA is an effective statute in dealing with endangered species.

“The claim by the Fish and Wildlife Service the recovery of these three foxes represents proof the ESA works is absurd,” said Seasholes. “The federal government owns the three islands on which the three foxes live, so the federal government should be doing all it can to preserve species on its land.

“Most endangered species live on private land, so the example of the three foxes is not representative of the realities facing most endangered species,” Seasholes said. “The ESA’s penalty-based approach creates strong incentives for landowners to make their property inhospitable to species.”

Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says the claims made by FWS touting ESA are “propaganda.”

“While we welcome the recovery of the island foxes, we do not welcome what is little more than government propaganda in support of the fatally flawed ESA,” Rucker said. “Landowners across the country have seen their livelihoods destroyed because their farms, ranches, orchards, or forests harbored endangered species. The ESA is bad for species and landowners, because it turns them into enemies.” 

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.