Fox talesSan Juan Island, WA

San Juan Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Every time I visit San Juan Island, my collection of fox sketches grows. They’re inescapable there, as much a part of the landscape now as the treeless prairies they prowl at Cattle Point.

San Juan Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

They’re not native to the island, though. In the 1890s, settlers introduced rabbits here for game, and apparently failed to foresee the obvious consequences. Of course, the rabbits did what rabbits do, and in the following decades island residents introduced red foxes to try to make a dent in the rabbit hordes. What has followed ever since is a population tug-of-war: some years the rabbits get out of control again, and the foxes have plenty to feast upon. Then the rabbits decline and the foxes get overpopulated and start dying off…the cycle repeats every few years or so.

San Juan Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

For the past five years or so, I’m guessing the island’s been in a fox cycle, because I have yet to see a rabbit on my visits there (though Orcas and Whidbey Islands are both overrun). And unfortunately, tourists tend to feed the foxes, which doesn’t help matters. But whenever I feel like studying fox anatomy, all I have to do is head down to Cattle Point, pull over at a certain overlook, and wait. It never takes long for someone to show up to have their portrait painted.

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