Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park

Preservation

Centennial Initiative 2016

Centennial Vision

On August 25, 2006 - the 90th anniversary of the National Park Service - Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne launched the National Park Centennial Initiative to prepare national parks for another century of conservation, preservation and enjoyment. Since then the National Park Service asked citizens, park partners, experts and other stakeholders what they envisioned for a second century of national parks.

A nationwide series of more than 40 listening sessions produced more than 6,000 comments that helped to shape five centennial goals. The goals and vision were presented to President Bush and to the American people on May 31st in a report called The Future of America's National Parks.

Every national park staff took their lead from this report and created local centennial strategies to describe their vision and desired accomplishments by 2016. This is just the first year, and there are many great things to come as the National Park Service prepares to celebrate 100 years!

To keep up with the Centennial Initiative and to experience the interactive version of The Future of America's National Parks and special features please visit the centennial website at www.nps.gov/2016.

 

Ecological Restoration

One of these is the diminutive island fox. Feral pigs have played a pivotal role in the catastrophic decline of island foxes. Formerly rare or occasional visitors, golden eagles have taken up residence on the islands, sustained by the year-round supply of piglets. Golden eagles predation has placed the island fox on the brink of extinction. Feral pigs also destroy native vegetation, cause widespread erosion, threaten rare plants, and disturb archeological sites.

Santa Cruz Island

Close to the mainland yet worlds apart, Santa Cruz Island is home to plants and animals that are found nowhere else on Earth. Like the Galapagos Islands of South America, the Channel Islands exist in isolation, allowing evolution to proceed independently, fostering the development of 145 endemic or unique species. Santa Cruz Island is host to 70 of these endemic species. Some, like the island scrub jay and the Santa Cruz Island silver lotus, are found only on Santa Cruz Island.

Unfortunately, this isolation has also made these species vulnerable to extinction. The melodic song of the Santa Barbara Island song sparrow and the crimson flower of the Santa Cruz Island monkey flower are no longer heard or seen within the park. The destruction of these species' habitats by non-native, exotic plants and animals have caused their extinction along with eight other rare and unique island species. Once found only on the Channel Islands, they have been lost forever.

In order to save 10 other island species, including the island fox, from the brink of extinction as well as protect 3,000 internationally significant archeological sites, the National Park Service (NPS) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have embarked upon a multi-year program to restore Santa Cruz Island. This restoration program is part of the NPS mission, as mandated by Congress, to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.

The Problem
The NPS, TNC, and natural and cultural resource experts have identified non-native feral pigs and non-native fennel (an invasive weed) as the most significant disturbances to the island's sensitive resources. Both pigs and fennel cause major impacts to native plant communities, rare plant species, and archeological sites.

Pig rooting causes massive destruction of native species, resulting in bare ground that is easily eroded and colonized by invasive weeds, especially fennel. This activity has been a factor in the decline of nine island plant species listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Pig rooting has also damaged a large number of archeological sites on the island that are associated with the Chumash Native Amercian people who occupied the island from at least 9,000 years ago until the early 1800s. Rooting to a depth of three feet has been noted in a number of sites, completely disturbing and desecrating these sacred sites and destroying their archeological value.

In addition, feral pigs have played a pivotal role in the catastrophic decline of island foxes. Piglets provide a year-round food source for golden eagles, allowing these former rare or occasional visitors to expand their range and establish resident populations on the island and prey on island foxes. Golden eagle predation has placed the fox on the brink of extinction on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands.

The Solution
Scientists agree that the eradication of feral pigs is the most important action that can be taken to protect and restore Santa Cruz Island. The National Park Service has had tremendous success restoring other islands in the park through the removal of non-native animals. The eradication of European rabbits from Santa Barbara Island and sheep and burros from San Miguel Island has resulted in tremendous natural recovery. Feral pigs have also been eradicated from Santa Rosa Island in a similar program.

Wildlife experts advise that pigs can be eradicated from Santa Cruz Island if we act aggressively and persistently. Island vegetation is responding rapidly to the removal of feral sheep, completed on western Santa Cruz Island by the The Nature Conservancy in 1980s and on the eastern portion of the island by the National Park Service in 1999. However, significant resources may be lost if the pigs are not removed from the island as soon as possible. Therefore, pig eradication along with control of dense stands of fennel began in 2004.

Other management actions to initiate recovery of the island ecosystem have already begun. Golden eagles are being captured and relocated to northeast California. A captive breeding program for island foxes has been established as insurance against losses due to golden eagles. Also, native bald eagles are being reintroduced. This predator disappeared in the 1950s due to DDT poisoning. Bald eagles eat fish, seabirds, and animal carcasses, not live foxes, and are very territorial. It is hoped that once they mature, they will establish territories and drive off any newly arriving golden eagles. In 2006, for the first time in more than 50 years, two bald eagle chicks were hatched unaided from two separate nests on Santa Cruz Island.

This multi-year program to remove golden eagles, reintroduce bald eagles, breed island foxes, eradicate pigs, and control fennel will help restore the balance to Santa Cruz Island's naturally functioning ecosystem. Once restored, the island will offer one of the last opportunities to experience the nationally significant natural and cultural heritage of coastal southern California.

Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island provides critically important habitat for seabirds, pinnipeds, and endemic plants and animals. The island's steep, lava rock cliffs have numerous caves and crevices that are particularly important for the increasingly rare seabird species, Xantus's murrelet and ashy storm-petrel. The largest breeding colony of the California brown pelican in the United States is Anacapa Island and a unique subspecies of deer mouse occurs only here as well.

The Anacapa ecosystem, however, has been degraded by the presence of non-native black rats (Rattus rattus). Rats have been introduced to over 80% of the world's islands, accounting for an estimated 40-60% of all bird and reptile extinctions in the world. On Anacapa, rats were introduced prior to 1940, most likely as stowaways on ships to the island. They have had large impacts on nesting seabirds, preying heavily on eggs and chicks of seabirds as their food source. Approximately 40% of Xantus's Murrelet nests on Anacapa have shown evidence of egg predation. Rats also prey directly on the native island deer mouse.

In the mid-1990s, the park teamed with the Island Conservation and Ecology Group (ICEG) to determine if and how rats could be eradicated from Anacapa Island. ICEG, active internationally in the restoration of island ecosystems through the eradication of non-native species, was aware of several successful eradications of rats from islands, particularly in New Zealand. Rats have been eradicated on over 100 islands worldwide by applying rodenticide bait; trapping alone has never succeeded.

Anacapa Island presented special challenges. The island has extensive steep cliffs, making placement of bait into the territory of every rat difficult. The endemic deer mice would feed on any bait that was attractive to rats. The endangered California brown pelican, extremely sensitive to disturbance, breed and nest on a large portion of the island during eight months of the year.

Following extensive consultation with experts, the park and ICEG determined that rats could be eradicated through the distribution of bait pellets with brodifacoum, the anticoagulant used in the majority of successful rat eradications. This product contains half the amount of rodenticide that is found in products that homeowners commonly purchase in the local grocery store and it would not accumulate in the environment since it breaks down into harmless carbon dioxide in water.

Fortuitously, the American Trader Trustee Council (ATTC), consisting of California Department of Fish & Game, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, had court settlement monies resulting from an oil spill in southern California. The purpose, in part, of the settlement monies was to restore seabird populations injured by the oil spill. The trustees supported eradication of the black rat from Anacapa Island because it is one of the most significant islands for breeding seabirds in southern California.

The bait application (from a hopper suspended under a helicopter) was scheduled during the fall, the end of the dry season, when rats were very hungry and both visitation and bird populations were low. Protection of the native deer mice had two components: a) holding a small population of mice in captivity, and b) maintaining deer mice in the wild by treating East Anacapa one year prior to treating Middle and West Anacapa.

Phase I, application of bait to East Anacapa Island, was completed in December 2001 and Phase II, treatment of Middle and West Anacapa, was completed in fall 2002. Extensive ecological monitoring pre- and post-rat eradication was conducted to determine the environmental impacts of the project. This monitoring has found substantial recovery of rare seabirds and other native wildlife on Anacapa Island following the eradication of rats. Mouse populations have returned to normal and they are breeding abundantly in the wild, while juvenile side-blotched lizards and slender salamanders are thriving in the absence of rats.

Scientists have recorded a dramatic and positive response by Xantus's murrelets, a rare seabird that nests on the island. Thomas Hamer, of Hamer Environmental, reports, "We have detected increases in the number of birds visiting nesting colonies ranging from 58% to more than two times higher when compared to the number of detections that we recorded per night in any of the previous years." Nest surveys by researchers from Humboldt State University have found 14 murrelet nests, including the first documented on Cat Rock since 1927.

Channel Islands National Park Superintendent Russell Galipeau, comments, "This project was critical to protecting and restoring the rare and unique wildlife on Anacapa. The National Park Service is dedicated to ensuring a diverse, naturally functioning island ecosystem."

Numerous environmental groups endorsed the project including the American Bird Conservancy, Pacific Seabird Group, California Audubon Society, Endangered Species Recovery Council, Audubon Living Oceans, and Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures. American Bird Conservancy President, George H. Fenwick, stated, "The Anacapa Island project is precisely the type of well-designed, extensively researched, and responsibly implemented program that the American Bird Conservancy supports and encourages. The long-term benefits of rat eradication on Anacapa Island are enormous for the conservation of one of North America's most distinctive ecosystems."