Plants and Animals of Catalina Island : Catalina Express

Plants and Animals of Catalina Island

Catalina Island Fox native to Catalina Island. Can be found nowhere else in the world.

The Catalina Island Conservancy protects 88% of the Island including more than 62 miles of unspoiled beaches and coves. The Conservancy cares for hundreds of plant and animal species, including over 60 species found nowhere else in the world. I had the chance to ask Hillary Holt, Catalina Island Conservancy’s Interpretation and Outreach Specialist a few questions about the Island’s amazing plant and animal life.

 

Danielle
Hillary, how did you become involved and what do you do for the Conservancy? I started my career as a research biologist but have always been drawn to education, both because of my love of teaching and my desire to effect change. I found this and more in my position as the Interpretation and Outreach Specialist with the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Hillary
I am a part of the Education department and am based in the Nature Center at the top of Avalon Canyon. I am responsible for Educational Outreach for the Conservancy, which largely includes teaching the Naturalist Training Program. Catalina Island is an ambassador for all of the special, wild places that need protecting.

Danielle
How did the Catalina Island Conservancy come to be originally established?

Hillary
Philip Knight Wrigley, the visionary behind the Conservancy, imagined the Island as a “living laboratory” where students and scientists could study the Island’s unique ecosystem. Wrigley’s vision was of an Island protected from exploitation, where native species would thrive and people could enjoy the land in environmentally sensitive ways as they honored its natural beauty. Through thoughtful foresight, the Catalina Island Conservancy was founded in 1972, making 42,000 acres or 88% percent of the Island protected forever in one of the largest land trusts in California.

Danielle
What kind of plants and animals can we expect to see on Catalina Island?

Hillary
First of all, Catalina is a wonder of biodiversity! We have more than 60 species that are on this Island and nowhere else in the world.

Southern California and Catalina Island are Mediterranean in climate, which means the Island has a moderate amount of rain in the shorter, mild winter months, and has warm, dry summers. You can find this climate just five other places on the planet (for example, Greece). You can find hard-leaved evergreen shrubs in all of these Mediterranean climate areas. In California, we call this type of plant community Chaparral. Amongst the Chaparral shrubs, you will find Manzanita, Lemonade-berry, Toyon and the Channel Island Endemic Island Scrub Oak. It is a little drier on the Island than the mainland, so you will also find plenty of sages and prickly pear cactus.

The adorable Catalina Island Fox, a sub-species of the Channel Island Fox and a much smaller version of the mainland Grey Fox, is the one of the most charismatic native animals on the Island. However, the Catalina Island Ground Squirrel and Catalina California Quail are equally as thrilling. Both are Island giants and are larger than their mainland ancestors. You will have the potential to see the non-native American Bison and California Mule Deer. Also, keep your eyes out for the Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes, as well as Bald Eagles!

Danielle
We know there are several dozen rare or indigenous animals on the Island but how did they get there?

Hillary
It was through chance and timing that many of the native (or indigenous) animals arrived to the Island. The smaller animals like the snails, snakes and lizards most likely rafted out to the Island on logs and mats of vegetation swept out to sea by large rain events. These animals were winners of these sweepstakes colonization events. There are other animals on the Island that we consider native because they have been on the Island long enough to have adapted to be different from their mainland ancestors, but were very likely brought out to the Island by the Native Americans, the Tongva, thousands of years ago. The Catalina Island Fox was almost surely brought by the Tongvans, and the jury is still out on whether that is how the Catalina Ground Squirrel and Catalina California Quail arrived.

Danielle
Where did some of the non-native animals come from?

Hillary
Sheep and goats were brought to the Island over the years for ranching beginning with the Spanish settlers sometime in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are estimates that 15,000 goat and 20, 000 sheep were on the Island in the mid-1800s. The wild boar was brought down from Santa Rosa Island and California Mule Deer were brought over from the mainland in the late 1920s. The American Bison were brought out to the Island in 1924 to be filmed by for the movie The Vanishing American, originally a Zane Grey novel.

Danielle
Catalina has so many different kinds of plants. Where can I go to learn more about them?

Hillary
It is a very exciting time to get out on the Island and see the green hills bursting to life after the huge rain year we have had!

Visit the Education team at the Nature Center at the top of Avalon Canyon and the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden just a little way beyond that. Our team is always there to answer any questions that you may have. Over the summer months when you visit the Botanic Garden, there will be Naturalists available to lead you on guided walks around the garden.

If you would like to get more involved, we have many ways to do that. We always need volunteers to help out at the James H Ackerman Native Plant Nursery in Middle Ranch. The Conservancy offers a Naturalist Training Program that you can participate in. Additionally, we have member hikes that we do every few months out in the wildlands of the Island. Please visit our website to learn more!

The Conservancy is putting the finishing touches on a Flora and Field guide specifically for Catalina! I will be first in line when it hits the shelves. There is also a Catalina Island Plant “pocket guide” that is handy to have in your backpack when you are out hiking.

Danielle
What can locals and visitors do to help the Island’s wildlife?

Hillary
Never, ever feed wildlife! There is never a case that feeding a wild animal helps them. In the case of the deer, they are a non-native animal with no natural predators. Feeding them (even produce) affects their ungulate digestive system and gives them acidosis and bloat, so they are starving with a full stomach. Feeding them may also help artificially inflate the population, leading to even more sickly deer. Without predators, these animals will lead a life of suffering. Also, it is illegal to feed the deer.

The Catalina Island Fox is a highly territorial animal. When they are being fed, are eating at cat care stations, or get into backpacks and tents at campgrounds, it will break down their social structure. It will bring them across roads causing increased roadkill mortalities and increase the contact they have with each other, promoting the spread of disease.

Also, please check your gear and shoes for stowaway seeds if you are hiking, and on boats for stowaway animals like rats and raccoons. Trying to prevent invasive species from entering the Island is a major way that you can help all of the species on the Island.

 

If you found this interview as interesting as I did and want to learn more about Catalina’s wildlife, visit the Catalina Island Conservancy’s website at catalinaconservancy.org. 

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