Magazine article Endangered Species Update

Biology, Policy and Law in Endangered Species Conservation: I. the Case History of the Island Fox on the Northern Channel Islands

Magazine article Endangered Species Update

Biology, Policy and Law in Endangered Species Conservation: I. the Case History of the Island Fox on the Northern Channel Islands

Article excerpt


Endangered species recovery often requires strategies that are risky, contentious, and difficult to implement. These qualities can lead to recovery actions that result from human dimensions of endangered species conservation instead of biological extent. Here we discuss the recovery actions implemented by the National Park Service in conserving three subspecies of the critically endangered island fox, Urocyon littoralis. We present an overview of how these subspecies became endangered, chronicle the existing and future threats to their persistence, and summarize the actions implemented and needed to save the fox from extinction. Similar to other endangered species programs, this recovery program suffers from a bureaucracy that prevents timely implementation of recovery actions and that is risk averse in its strategies to save the fox. Consequently, even though a wealth of biological information now exists on this species and the threats to its existence are well known, necessary recovery actions are being delayed. Bold, aggressive, and controversial actions are likely to be requisites to save the island fox from extinction.


La recuperacion de especies en peligro muchas veces necesita estrategias arriesgadas, contenciosas, y dificiles de implementar. Estas caracteristicas pueden derivar en acciones de recuperacion que resultan de las dimensiones humanas de la conservacion de especies en peligro en lugar de la dimension biologica. En este articulo, discutimos las acciones de recuperacion implementadas por el Servicio de Parques Nacionales en la conservacion de tres sub-especies de la criticamente amenazada el zorro isleno, Urocyon littoralis. Presentamos una vision de conjunto de como estas sub-especies ban llegado a estar en peligro de extincion, describimos las amenazas presentes y futuras, y resumimos las acciones implementadas y las necesarias para salvar al zorro de la extincion. Igual que otros programas de especies amenazadas, este programa de recuperacion sufre los efectos de una burocracia que impide la implementacion oportuna de acciones de recuperacion y que es adversa al riesgo. En consecuencia, aun cuando hoy existe abundante informacion biologica sobre esta especie y se conocen muy bien las amenazas a su supervivencia, las acciones necesarias para lograr su recuperacion no se ejecutan. Para salvar el zorro isleno de la extincion, acciones audaces, agresivas, y controversiales son probablemente las indispensables.


A premier and vital piece of endangered species legislation, the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), has been critiqued and often criticized on its efficacy (Clark et a1.1994; NRC 1995; Clark et al. 2002; Kareiva 2002; Roemer & Wayne 2003). Although criticism stems from how the law is worded and its intent (e.g., single species vs. multiple species vs. ecosystem approaches), most censure reflects not an inadequacy in the structure of the law itself, but rather in its implementation. Endangered species recovery plans frequently lack detailed biological information on the species at risk, and the threats to the species persistence are often not the primary focus (Tear et al. 1995; Clark et al. 2002; Lawler et al. 2002). Even when sound decisions based on the biology of the species at risk can be reached and implemented, the legal, political, and financial realities of endangered species conservation can take precedence. Because "the ultimate causes of most species' endangerment lie in human values that are manifest in varying social, economic, and political institutions and activities" (Clark et al. 1994: 419), such institutions must be engaged for recovery to elude failure (Clark and Wallace 1998). Here we summarize the evolution of a current endangered species issue that concerns the decline and conservation of the island fox (Urocyon littoralis), a carnivore endemic to the California Channel Islands. This first essay describes the conservation scenario of the island fox on the northern Channel Islands; future essays portray the conservation of fox populations on the southern Channel Islands (Figure 1). …

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