EL SEGUNDO — In a high-tech industrial park where the Air Force speaks to satellites and the latest lasers flash dazzling bolts of light behind classified doors, a shy family of red foxes is running out of time and place.
Dwarfed by modernist oblongs of glass and steel, the creatures dwell humbly in a dusty vacant lot scraped bare of vegetation, dependent for much of their food and water on what is left by a small cadre of friends.
"It is pretty amazing that they live there," said Wesley Joe, an El Segundo city inspector. "It is in the middle of an urban area. That is not a place for them to be."
Last week, the city asked the Southern California Humane Society to trap the animals and release them in the wild. Humane Society Sgt. Douglas Buck said Thursday that one night of trapping had netted none.
But even if the trappers don't catch up with the half-dozen foxes, sooner or later development will.
A spokesman for Chevron Research Co., which owns the lot, said the site eventually will be developed. The 18 acres of prime real estate lie just north of El Segundo Boulevard and west of Nash Street.
"I don't think it is realistic to assume that this property will not be developed--to put that property aside and create a red fox habitat. It is inconsistent with what you see around that area," said Chevron spokesman Rod Spackman.
Red foxes fall into a gray area for wildlife management, according to Bill Sheflin, patrol captain with the state Department of Fish and Game.
Sheflin said that red foxes are not an endangered species, not a pest and not native to Southern California. He conceded that red foxes are cute: "People like to see them. They are pretty little animals."
The state game official said he prefers a policy of benign neglect to any relocation effort.
"We don't want to re-establish them. If we moved them into the foothills where the gray foxes are, they would predominate and drive our gray foxes out," Sheflin said.
"We know they are there and we don't want to move them. They will find their niche. If the food source is not there, then nature will take its course and they will not have big litters. They won't starve to death. They will go find food. They are clever like a fox. They will survive."
Buck said, however, that Fish and Game officials indicated they would work with the Humane Society to find a suitable place to release any red foxes that are captured.
Red foxes were first brought into Los Angeles County years ago by horsemen seeking foxes to hunt, according to Sheflin. They readily took to the Southern California life style, adapting to areas inhabited by humans that are shunned by the shyer gray fox.
In the South Bay, other groupings of red foxes live at the Torrance Airport, at a Torrance refinery near the intersection of Lomita and Crenshaw boulevards and on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, according to the Humane Society's Buck.
Sheflin said that his agency typically hears about red foxes when nature lovers voice worries about construction plans for a lot where the foxes have burrows.
That is how the El Segundo foxes came to official attention.
Mark Johnson, 24, of Torrance, a Hilton hotel clerk and sometime student at El Camino College, saw a bulldozer parked on the site two weeks ago. He and his father, who works at nearby Los Angeles International Airport, had long been feeding the foxes.
Fearing that construction was imminent, Johnson contacted Chevron, Fish and Game and the city of El Segundo. (The bulldozer, which was used to clear away grass and weeds in part of the lot, disappeared shortly afterward.)
Chevron's Spackman, who learned of the foxes only when Johnson called, urged him and others who feed the foxes to stop.
"One of the few reasons the foxes are in there is that people have come in there and fed the foxes. Normally, they wouldn't come in in such a barren environment," he said.
Spackman said Chevron would inspect the site before any construction begins and plan an appropriate strategy for the foxes.
"If there is a valid concern, we will address it," he said.
Johnson, who offered no apology for feeding the foxes, said he believes that trapping and relocating them in the wild is the right thing to do.
"I think it is great," he said. "It is everything I wanted. I am just glad they are being relocated. My original fears were they would be hit by cars. They were being muscled out. . . . I hope the trapping efforts will be successful."