Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By John Sully
Observer Staff Writer 

Santa Cruz Island Offers an Empty Pacific Island, Minutes from LA

The way California looked before all the people came here is also home to the Island Fox


August 14, 2016

Driftwood on Santa Cruz island

Santa Cruz Island is the largest of the eight islands in the Channel Islands of California, located off the coast of California. The island, in the northern group of the Channel Islands, is 22 miles long and from 2 to 6 miles wide with an area of 61,764.6 acres. It is a hold over from a time when California held far fewer people.

"The island is three times bigger then Manhattan," says John Sullivan, a recent visitor, "and you have maybe 60 miles of hiking available through all kinds of terrain. Plus, kayaking too."

Santa Cruz Island is located within Santa Barbara County, California. The coastline has steep cliffs, gigantic sea caves, coves, and sandy beaches.

The 2000 census showed an official population of two persons. The highest peak is Devils Peak, at 2450+ feet (747+ m). It was the largest privately owned island off the continental United States but is currently part-owned by the National Park Service (NPS owns 24%, and the Nature Conservancy owns 76%). "The most impressive thing about the place is the isolation and the feeling that you are back 200 years to a California that once existed," says Sullivan.

Santa Cruz Island has many species found nowhere else on earth, including for instance the island scrub jay and the Santa Cruz Island fox, a subspecies of the island fox.

The island fox (Urocyon littoralis) is a small fox that is native to six of the eight Channel Islands of California. There are six subspecies of the fox, each unique to the island it lives on, reflecting its evolutionary history. Other names for the island fox include coast fox, short-tailed fox, island gray fox, Channel Islands fox, Channel Islands gray fox, California Channel Island fox and insular gray fox.

"These foxes are all over the island and are smaller then most foxes but have lived there for tens of thousands of years. I guess they arrived there prior to water isolated the islands and shrank due to the isolation." says Sullivan

Because the island fox is geographically isolated, it has no immunity to parasites and diseases brought in from the mainland and is especially vulnerable to those that the domestic dog may carry. In addition, predation by the golden eagle and human activities devastated fox numbers on several of the Channel Islands in the 1990s. Four island fox subspecies were federally protected as an endangered species in 2004, and efforts to rebuild fox populations and restore the ecosystems of the Channel Islands are being undertaken. Radio collars are being attached to foxes in an effort to track and locate the young foxes. To date these efforts have been largely successful.

Shimmering water only a few dozen miles from Los Angeles

A central valley splits the island along the Santa Cruz Island Fault, with volcanic rock on the north and older sedimentary rock on the south. This volcanic rock was heavily fractured during the uplift phase that formed the island and over a hundred large sea caves have been carved into the resulting faults. One of these, Painted Cave, is among the world's largest.

Island Packers visits all five of the islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park and National Marine Sanctuary. View our Island Trips for details on day trips, camping, island activities and special trips. (805) 642-1393

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• Santa Cruz Island

• Santa Rosa Island

• Santa Barbara Island

San Miguel Island

The Anacapa Islands


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