CMC Summer Intern Helps Endangered Foxes on Channel Islands to Thrive

Daniel Olmsted is making a difference helping one animal species the Channel Island fox battle back from the brink of extinction. Read his story here, one of a series of articles profiling CMC students and their summer internships.

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Name: Daniel Olmsted ’11

Major: Environment, Economics and Politics

Summer Internship: From June through August with the Channel Islands Nationhttps://www.claremontmckenna.edu/secure/cmcpublications/uploadform.aspal Park Service where he’ll work with wildlife biologists from the terrestrial vertebrate division. The primary project goal is to monitor a sample of endemic island foxes on San Miguel Island (SMI) by implementing radio-telemetry.*


Future Plans:
“To be perfectly honest I am just trying to take things one day at a time and enjoy my time working on the islands this summer. As far as future plans are concerned, I am still undecided. Although I have a general sense of where I might want to end up, I can see myself heading down a number of different paths. Ideally, I would like to take some time traveling after graduation.”

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CMC: So you’ll be “collaring” foxes, so to speak

Dan: Special proximity collars and remote receivers will allow for careful monitoring of approximately 60 island foxes by triangulating the locations and conditions of each fox. In addition to daily mortality checks, these collars will transmit data that will give us greater insight on the food resources, habitat selection, and even social behaviors of the island fox. Individual monitoring can be achieved because every fox has its own unique frequency. I will also be responsible for trapping the foxes, placing new collars on pups, and inspecting for illnesses, including a potentially fatal form of ear cancer that has become increasingly prevalent in older foxes. Moreover, I will be checking for other diseases that pose a serious threat to the island fox such as canine distemper virus as well as combing for fleas and ticks that may carry rabies.

CMC: It seems like you’ll be an authority on this breed of fox by summer’s end.

Dan: The more time I spend with these animals the more I want to learn about their fascinating story as well as the unfortunate events that almost led to their demise. To truly get an accurate picture of the current state of the foxes we also collect and test scat for cortisol levels, an indicator of stress, collect blood samples for genetic purposes, and administer annual vaccinations. Long-term population monitoring provides vital information on the current health of the island foxes, which has been an instrumental step in the island fox recovery program. Although I spend the majority of my time out on the islands conducting fieldwork I also work occasionally on the mainland updating maps using GIS in order to identify various monitoring sites.

CMC: How did you line up this internship?

Dan: While tramping on one of New Zealand’s beautiful “Great Walks” during my semester abroad last fall it dawned on me how critical it is to preserve and protect lands of significant ecological importance for future generations. Then I had another revelation: what better place to get involved than in my own community? Working with the Channel Islands National Park Service seemed like the ideal choice for a summer internship. It just so happens that I share the same beliefs that are outlined in park service mission statement. Having the same set of objectives certainly helped me in my effort to secure an internship. In fact, I remember adopting an island fox in fourth grade when a guest visitor from the National Park Service came to my class. It’s funny how things have come full circle. But instead of making another donation to help purchase a radio collar, I am now in a position to make a real difference and help ensure the full recovery of the island fox on SMI.


CMC: You mentioned the attractiveness of doing an internship “in your own community”; how so?

Dan: I was born and raised in Ventura and as a result I developed a strong bond with the Channel Islands at an early age. I was blessed to grow up in a place like Ventura because it helped foster a deep appreciation of nature. The Channel Islands, although easily accessible from Ventura (the closest island is a mere 15 miles away from the coast), always seemed like a mystical place that I could go to whenever I wanted to take a step back and momentarily experience coastal Southern California the way it was meant to be, relatively free from human impact. This internship has given me a valuable opportunity to integrate my studies as an EEP major with extensive fieldwork under the guidance of a wildlife biologist. Also, it has allowed me to observe the political and economic challenges facing nonprofit organizations today. I was fortunate enough to attend the annual fox conference this summer and meet all the different organizations that are invested in the island fox recovery program.


CMC: You mentioned you’ll be on San Miguel Island for a week at a time why one-week stints?

Dan: Seven days is just the typical rotation that Channel Islands National Park follows. I am not sure if there is any rhyme or reason behind the week-long “tour” but it is the same schedule that the park rangers and wildlife biologists stick to. Often, inclement weather presents a logistical challenge on SMI. San Miguel is the westernmost island, thus it is exposed to the powerful winds that generate off of Point Conception. Even during the summer months, San Miguel seems to be shrouded in a blanket of fog. So far I have experienced extended stays due to a persistent layer of fog, which has hindered our flights into SMI and back to the mainland. I found out quickly that a seven-day tour could easily turn into nine.

CMC: How has your CMC experience been of particular help to you in this internship?

Dan: Receiving a liberal arts education from CMC has changed the way I view the world. I believe each class I have taken whether it was introductory biology, or “Questions of Civilization” has added another important dimension. My major has allowed me to approach this internship not strictly from a biological perspective but also from an economic and political aspect as well. I am especially concerned with how the national park service allocates its resources in order to benefit the greatest number of species. Working at the Robert’s Environmental Center as a research analyst has also proven beneficial.

CMC: What, so far, has been your greatest joy about this internship?

Dan: If I had to narrow it down to one single moment it would be standing atop a bluff overlooking Point Bennett and observing thousands of northern elephant seals and sea lions basking on the beach. It truly was a spectacular sight to see the gigantic behemoths in their natural element. San Miguel is home to the largest pinniped rookery in the world. It gives me great pleasure to not only witness but to be a part of the amazing collaborative effort to restore the islands back to their original condition and set them back on the path towards a sustainable future. Everything on the island is interconnected and saving a single species like the island fox will go a long way in restoring the balance.

*Island foxes are indigenous to the Channel Islands. There are six subspecies that have evolved over time and their presence is known nowhere else. A little over a decade ago the island foxes on SMI were on the verge of extinction with only 15 foxes remaining. In 1998, National Park Service biologists initiated a radio-telemetry study of island foxes to determine causes of mortality. Golden eagle predation was identified as the main cause of death. Drastic measures were taken to save the remaining 15 foxes on SMI and they were brought into a captive breeding program to help bolster their numbers. By 2004 those captive populations had grown to 38 foxes. With the reintroduction of the bald eagles and the relocation of golden eagles back to the mainland in conjunction with careful long term monitoring, the island foxes are now on the road to recovery.