Today, Santa Cruz Island is divided between The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. The Nature Conservancy owns and manages the western 76% of the island; the eastern 24% is owned and managed by the National Park Service.
Permanent and seasonal water sources, plus a number of microclimates, support over 650 species of plants and trees in ten different plant communities, from marshes and grasslands to chaparral and pine forests. Owing to millions of years of isolation, eight of these plants are “endemic”-they grow nowhere else in the world. Springtime is a patchwork of blooming annuals, sometimes seen from the mainland as bright splashes of color. Over 140 land bird species have been identified here. The Island scrub jay (Aphelocoma insularis), a Santa Cruz Island endemic, is a living example of “gigantism,” whereby some island animals evolve to a larger form. This bird is one-third bigger and much bluer than the mainland scrub jay. Other animals, like the Island fox (Urocyon littoralis) and Island spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis amphialus), tend toward “dwarfism,” growing smaller over the ages. Eleven other mammal species including nine bats, deer and harvest mouse, three kinds of amphibians including the Channel Islands slender salamander (Batrachoseps pacificus), five reptiles including the Side-blotched lizard, Southern alligator lizard, Western fence lizard, Western yellow belly racer, and Gopher snake, might be seen by visitors.
Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were once numerous on California’s Channel Islands, but because of eggshell thinning caused by the illegal dumping of the pesticide, “DDT,” and other factors, the last known successful Bald eagle nesting in the northern Channel Islands was in 1949. By the 1960’s, Bald eagles could no longer be found on any of the Channel Islands. Soon after, Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) began nesting on the islands, and began hunting Island foxes until native fox populations declined to a threatened status. After successful trapping and relocating of the Golden eagles, the Institute for Wildlife Studies started a program in 2002 to reintroduce Bald eagles to the California’s Channel Islands funded by money from a $25 million fund to deal with the lingering effects of DDT dumped by the Montrose Chemical Corporation into the ocean near Los Angeles.
Between 2002 and 2006, 61 young bald eagles have been released on Santa Cruz Island. On March 17, 2006 wildlife biologists for the Institute announced that for the first time in over 50 years there has been a successful hatching on Santa Cruz Island. In April 2007, the Nature Conservancy announced another successful chick hatching. The chick broke free of its shell on April 13, 2007. The parents were one of the two nesting pairs who had returned to the island after making history the previous year. Both pairs were born in captivity. This second birth represented a turning point in the struggle to return the eagles to their former habitat on the island. Three nests have now been documented on Santa Cruz island as of the 2008 breeding season.