Healthy Populations Return to Southern California’s Channel Islands
LOS ANGELES— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the island night lizard has fully recovered under the Endangered Species Act, which means federal protections can be removed. Today’s rule explains that nearly all recovery objectives established in a scientifically based recovery plan have been met, including eradication of the nonnative pigs and goats that damaged lizard habitat. The night lizard is yet another Endangered Species Act success story.
“The island night lizard and its habitat have recovered because of the Endangered Species Act,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney and biologist focused on protecting reptiles and amphibians. “Before it was protected under the Act, this lizard faced intense habitat destruction from imported pigs and goats that didn’t belong on the island and were tearing it up. But federal agencies cooperated on recovery and now this once-vanishing animal joins the long list of plants and animals the Endangered Species Act has saved from extinction.”
The island night lizard is found only on the Channel Islands, off the coast of Southern California, with approximately 21.3 million lizards on San Clemente Island, 15,300 lizards on San Nicolas Island, and 17,600 lizards on Santa Barbara Island (including a small islet to the southwest called Sutil Island). The lizard has benefited from protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1977, when the Service listed the lizard as a threatened species. In 1984 the Service prepared, and began implementing, a recovery plan focused on habitat restoration and education.
With the exception of a few ongoing recovery actions, nearly all recovery objectives have been fulfilled as the result of management by the Navy and National Park Service. Most significantly, all pigs and goats have been removed from San Clemente, San Nicolas and Santa Barbara islands. These nonnative herbivores threatened the lizard through habitat loss and degradation; their removal has allowed the slow recovery of the native habitat to begin.
“The recovery of the island night lizard is yet another example of how well the Endangered Species Act works once we decide to use it,” said Adkins Giese. “Over the past 40 years, the protections of this landmark law have prevented the extinction of some of our country’s rarest wildlife and plants.”
Opponents of the Endangered Species Act have frequently criticized the law for recovering too few species. Addressing all the threats that cause species endangerment can be a slow process, but today’s announcement reinforces what studies have already shown — that that the Endangered Species Act has not only prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals under its protection, but has consistently helped those species to recover. The success of the Act is evidenced in a 2012 report published by the Center called “On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife,” which evaluates 110 species and finds that nearly all the animals and plants are recovering on time to meet federal goals.
The island night lizard (Xantusia riversiana) is an omnivorous, medium-sized lizard, rarely exceeding 4 inches in body length. The colors and patterns of the lizard are highly variable, ranging from pale gray to brown or black with mottling or stripes. The lizard gives birth to live young, rather than laying eggs, which is unusual among reptiles. Island night lizards are slow-growing and long-lived, with some individuals estimated to be 30 years old. Studies on Santa Barbara Island have shown that the island night lizards are not nocturnal, as suggested by their name, but instead are most active at midday.
Mounting scientific evidence shows that reptiles and amphibians (together called “herpetofauna”) are among the most imperiled species on Earth. Ubiquitous toxins, global warming, nonnative predators, overcollection, habitat destruction and disease are key factors leading to the demise of reptiles and amphibians in the United States and worldwide. For more information about the Center’s campaign to stop the herpetofauna extinction crisis, visit BiologicalDiversity.org/herps.