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Experts seek to remove fox from endangered list

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POSTED June 17, 2014 7:25 p.m.

SANTA ANA  (AP) — Two subspecies of a fox that lives only on an island chain off the Southern California coast should be removed from the endangered species list because of a dramatic increase in population during at least the past decade, a scientific group dedicated to fox recovery said Tuesday.

The island fox is found on six of the eight Channel Islands, but its population plummeted by 95 percent in the 1990s, which led to the development of the Island Fox Conservation Working Group. In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed four of the six subspecies of the fox as endangered.

“This is one of the quickest recoveries of species I’ve ever seen. It normally takes a species about 25 years to come off the list,” said Tim Coonan, a biologist and member of the conservation group.

The population decline happened because golden eagles preyed upon the foxes on San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands, while disease devastated the subspecies on Catalina Island.

The eagles were attracted by small feral pigs that were not native to the islands but were an easy food source.

In 1999, conservationists began an intensive recovery program that included relocating the eagles, killing off the pigs and breeding foxes in captivity.

“The island foxes in a normal environment don’t have any predators,” said David Garcelon, president of the Institute for Wildlife Studies. “With the golden eagles gone, once you get them out there and let them reproduce on their own, they are fine.”

Each island has its own subspecies of the island fox because of years of genetic isolation.

The group plans to ask the Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify the foxes on Santa Rosa and Catalina islands as threatened and take the subspecies off the endangered list entirely for San Miguel and Santa Cruz islands, Garcelon said.

In order for an animal to be added or removed from the endangered species list, a group needs to write a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency looks at a number of factors, including whether there is sufficient habitat and whether the initial threat to the species still exists.

It’s unclear when the Fish and Wildlife Service will act on the request, but current budget constraints may delay the process, said Gavin Shire, a spokesman for the agency.

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