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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional

Campaign Seeks to Save Island Foxes From Eagles

March 14, 2000

CHANNEL ISLANDS — A life and death struggle has intensified on the Channel Islands off Ventura County as scientists hurry to intercept hungry eagles poised to gobble the few remaining island foxes.

Spring is in the air, and golden eagles preparing to nest on the islands are launching voracious air strikes against prey, including feral pigs and rodents, which are multiplying as grass grows. Trouble is, the big raptors eat too many tiny island foxes, the unofficial mascot of the islands.

In an attempt to adjust the food chain, researchers have doubled their efforts this year to remove golden eagles, which are not native to the islands, and capture many of the remaining foxes before the avian predators find them. The drama is being played out on San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands, which are part of Channel Islands National Park.

If all goes well, the eagles could be evicted by summer and foxes paired with mates in captivity could begin breeding their way back from the precipice of extinction.

"We are full-bore on eagle removal," said Tim Coonan, a biologist for Channel Islands National Park. "This spring is critical to success. This spring will determine if the species can survive on the islands or not."

Last May, a team of experts concluded that foxes inhabiting the park islands were in immediate peril of extinction due to predation, heartworms and damage to their native habitat. Fox populations on the northern Channel Islands have declined 90% in five years, making them one of the most threatened canine species in North America. Only 15 foxes remain on San Miguel Island, a stronghold for 450 of the animals not long ago.

Pens are being built to hold foxes removed from the wild on Santa Rosa Island. And more eagle trappers are being deployed. Using rabbits for bait, they are taking advantage of the eagles' surging appetite and catching them with nets.

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