Fish and Wildlife sued by animal protection group over Channel Islands fox protection

Union Tribune

April 17, 2003

LOS ANGELES, CA An animal protection group sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, claiming the agency acted too slowly in deciding whether to add four subspecies of island fox to the federal endangered species list.

The island fox subspecies live on four of six Channel Islands, but their population has plummeted in recent years. On San Miguel Island, only one remains.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's failure to protect the island fox, despite such dramatic declines, is emblematic of the Bush administration's failure to implement the Endangered Species Act," said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist for the group. "In this case, such failure may result in the extinction of one of California's most unique mammals."

Lois Grunwald, a spokeswoman for Fish and Wildlife's Ventura office, said she couldn't comment because she hadn't seen the lawsuit.

Fish and Wildlife proposed listing the four subspecies in December 2001. The federal agency had a year to decide whether to list them under the Endangered Species Act, but that deadline has passed.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the Interior Department has failed to request sufficient funds for its listing program over the last five years. That has led to a backlog and it often takes up to three to five years to list a species, Greenwald said.

He said his group will ask a judge to set a deadline for Fish and Wildlife to make a decision on the island fox.

The fox population on San Miguel, Santa Catalina, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands has fallen from 6,000 in 1994 to fewer than 1,660 in 2001, according to the suit.

The National Park Service is operating a captive breeding program in hopes of saving the fox.

Biologists point to the golden eagles that swoop down to feast on the foxes as the cause of the steadily diminishing numbers.

Other factors, Greenwald said, are a loss of habitat caused by the spread of nonnative grasses and the outbreak of a disease affecting dogs that has spread to the foxes.


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