San Nicolas Island (14,569 acres) is located sixty-one miles due west of Los Angeles and is the most remote of the eight islands in the Channel Island archipelago. The island is owned and managed by the US Navy. The island is the setting for Scott O’Dell’s prize-winning 1960 novel, Island of the Blue Dolphins.
ix of the eight islands in the Channel Islands Archipelago are home to a unique fox subspecies found nowhere else in the world. San Nicolas Island supports a large and healthy population of this island fox. The island’s natural vegetation, once common throughout California, is now restricted to the most remote or protected corners of the state, such as San Nicolas. Howling winds, extremes of temperature, and torrential storms have created a tough environment, and native life has adapted to these rugged conditions—but not to the presence of non-native, invasive feral cats. For years, feral cats competed with foxes for food and resources, and directly preyed on seabirds and lizards.
In 2009, Island Conservation and our partners began relocating feral cats from San Nicolas to a permanent sanctuary on mainland California in an effort to protect native species. This conservation action provides the opportunity for habitat and native species to recover. Since the last known feral cat was removed, there are already signs of the island’s native plants and animals on a path to recovery.
1. WHAT NATIVE WILDLIFE IS FOUND HERE?
San Nicolas Island is a relatively untouched ecosystem, home to numerous species found exclusively in the Channel Islands, including at least twenty-five invertebrates, sixteen plant species, one reptile, three birds, and two mammals. Several at-risk species inhabit the island, including the San Nicolas Island Fox, Western Snowy Plover, and Island Night Lizard. San Nicolas supports three rare native vegetation communities and important seabird colonies and is surrounded by a spectacular marine and intertidal environment teeming with Harbor Seals, California Sea Lions, Southern Sea Otters, and Northern Elephant Seals.
2. HOW DID ISLAND CONSERVATION TRACK AND REMOVE FERAL CATS OVER SUCH A LARGE TERRAIN?
Island Conservation and our partners employed cutting-edge technology that helped make the project a success. An extensive field trap monitoring system was deployed, which enabled staff to quickly respond to sprung traps. Field staff utilized rugged pocket computers loaded with GPS and GIS capabilities to record data and locations and to track our coverage of the island. Field data were analyzed daily, resulting in real-time analysis of progress made during the project.
3. WHAT IS THE BIOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS RESTORATION PROJECT?
By removing feral cats, Island Conservation helped protect rare and endangered species. San Nicolas Island’s native life—some found nowhere else in the world—was threatened by introduced feral cats, which preyed on endemic lizards and deer mice, as well as on nesting seabirds and other birds. Feral cats also directly competed with foxes for habitat.
4. WHAT COLLABORATIONS ENABLED THE SUCCESS OF THIS PROJECT?
This project was made possible with funding from the Montrose Settlement Restoration Program, which is dedicated to restoring natural resources harmed by DDTs and PCBs in the southern California marine environment.
To protect the Critically Endangered San Nicolas Island Fox, San Nicolas Island Night Lizard, and large colonies of Brandt’s Cormorants from the threat of extinction by removing feral cats.
Native animal and plant species on San Nicolas Island reclaim their island home and are thriving.
For years, introduced feral cats competed with foxes for resources and directly preyed on seabirds and lizards.
In 2010, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Island Conservation, Institute for Wildlife Studies, The Humane Society of the United States, and the Montrose Settlement Restoration Program completed the removal and relocation of feral cats to the permanent, fully enclosed Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona, California.
Native populations of Critically Endangered San Nicolas Island Foxes (as listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and Brandt’s Cormorants are no longer at risk of competition and direct predation, and no sign of feral cats has been detected since June 2010.
Project Director Chad Hanson, B.S., has worked on a suite of invasive mammal eradication project for the last fifteen years. He has extensive experience in assessing feasibility, developing plans, budgeting, implementing and confirming the eradication of a suite of species, including feral goats, cattle, horses, buffalo, cats, macaques, rabbits and rodents in several countries. Before joining Island Conservation, Chad played a predominant role in the world’s largest goat removal on Santiago Island, Galápagos, applying his management and training skills to a team of over 40 field staff. He co-chairs Island Conservation’s Eradication Advisory Team and has led the development of Island Conservation’s internal project management process.