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Feral Pig Eradication Begins on Santa Cruz Island

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Date: March 15, 2005
Contact: Yvonne Menard, 805-658-5725

The National Park Service (NPS) and The Nature Conservancy announced today the initiation of a long-anticipated program to eradicate feral pigs from Santa Cruz Island to save the endangered island fox and nine rare plants from extinction and protect archaeological sites.

Feral pigs—originally imported to the island as domestic farm animals in the 1850s—root up native vegetation, causing massive erosion, spreading invasive weeds, and destroying ancient Chumash archaeological sites. The pigs have also attracted a new predator to the island, the golden eagle, which has hunted the island fox to near extinction. Fewer than 100 foxes exist in the wild.

“Today marks the beginning of a new recovery era for Santa Cruz Island and the island fox,” said Lotus Vermeer, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Santa Cruz Island Preserve. “Eliminating the pigs will give the island’s endangered plants and animals a new lease on life.”

“The natural recovery following the removal of non-native animals on all five park islands has been considerable,” said Russell Galipeau, Channel Islands National Park superintendent. “We look forward to watching the return of natural processes as the dominant force protecting the island ecosystem.”

The decision to eradicate feral pigs follows years of planning, scientific review and extensive media coverage of alternative options. Pigs cannot be returned to the mainland because they are potential carriers of disease. Contraceptives and sterilants are sometimes useful for animal control, but not for eradication of pigs. Controlling feral pigs would not lessen their destructive impacts to island resources.

The eradication program is being implemented by Prohunt Inc., a professional hunting firm from New Zealand that specializes in island conservation through elimination of non-native animals. The program is expected to take two to three years to complete and has a shared cost of approximately $5 million.

Land owned by the NPS will remain open to the public during most of the eradication program, although there may be some restrictions on camping and hiking in some seasons. For public safety reasons, The Nature Conservancy will limit public access to its property from March 2005 to June 2007. Boaters with landing permits may continue to come ashore, but hiking inland will not be permitted. Permit holders will be notified in advance of timed beach closures.

Pig removal is a critical component of an ambitious science-based program to save the island fox and preserve Santa Cruz Island’s biological richness for future generations. The Nature Conservancy and the NPS are also breeding foxes in captivity and monitoring the wild population, capturing golden eagles and returning them to the mainland, re-establishing bald eagles, and controlling invasive weeds.

Did You Know?

Painted Cave, Santa Cruz Island

Painted Cave on Santa Cruz Island is one of the world’s largest known sea caves. The cave measures 1215 feet in length (the size of more than four football fields), has a 160 foot entrance, and is almost 100 feet wide.