In 2006, the visitors to the Channel Islands got a special and unscheduled treat. In the spring of that year, two pairs of bald eagles hatched chicks in nests on the island. The arrival of those tiny birds provided a running finish to a five year effort, an effort meant to insure the return of the bald eagle to the Channel Islands in California.
In the first half of the 20th Century, the Channel Islands had been a favored habitat of the bald eagle. The situation changed, however, in the early 1970's. At that time, the birds found it impossible to sit on their eggs. The DDT in the environment had caused the eggs to have a very thin shell. The thin shell could not support the weight of an adult bald eagle. Unable to hatch baby chicks, the bald eagles on the Channel Islands become a threatened species.
Much legal maneuvering focused on the Montrose Chemical Company, the company that had dumped the DDT into the ocean waters. The courts asked Montrose to pay for its careless attack on the ecology of California. A portion of that settlement was intended to help with the restoration of the bald eagle population.
In 2002 the Park Service began a five year effort aimed at helping the bald eagle to return to the Channel Islands. By 2004, the Park Service could say that that effort was well under way. By 2004, the Park Service had introduced 23 young bald eagles onto the northern Channel Islands in California. Those four islands-Santa Cruz Island, Anacapa Island, Santa Rosa Island and San Miguel Island-had been judged the best location for the trial program.
The northern Channel Islands, now blessed with the sight of soaring bald eagles, are all located off of the Ventura county coast. The Channel Islands further south, where the bald eagle still remains absent, are located off of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Residents on all of the Channel Islands have learned a great deal about ecological changes.
As the bald eagle population on the Channel Islands in California decreased, the golden eagles began to claim that same territory. That was bad news for the foxes on the Islands. The bald eagles did not eat the foxes; they preferred to eat fish. The golden eagles, however, did find the foxes tasty. The golden eagles added fox to their diet of domesticated animals. Hence the influx of golden eagles led to a decline in the fox population.
Scientists have sought to remove the golden eagles from the Channel Islands. They have recommended the killing-off of one food source, but not the killing of the foxes. Scientists have suggested the killing of the pigs on the Islands. The hope is that the golden eagles will eventually seek a habitat with a richer food store.
The Channel Islands could have been the scene of an ecological disaster. Fortunately, it now appears that the story of the bald eagle's return to the Islands will allow many school children to see more clearly the interdependence of the wildlife in any ecological niche. It should help those children to better appreciate the reason for habitat preservation.