PORTLAND, Ore.–(ENEWSPF)–June 19 – Two newly detected Oregon populations of montane red fox — one on Mt. Hood and another in Crater Lake National Park — may be previously unknown populations of the Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpus vulpus necator), an imperiled subspecies of red fox native to the highest reaches of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains south of the Columbia River. Fewer than 50 individuals are thought to remain in known relict populations near Sonora Pass and Lassen Peak in California, making the fox among North America’s rarest mammals.
Using remote motion-triggered cameras, Cascadia Wild and the Cascades Carnivore Project, in cooperation with the Mt. Hood National Forest, detected three montane red foxes on the southern slopes of Mt. Hood this winter and spring — the first montane red fox detections in northern Oregon in decades.
“Cascadia Wild has been teaching animal tracking and seeing red fox tracks on Mt. Hood for years,” said Teri Lysak of Cascadia Wild. “It’s exciting for us to finally get verifiable proof of what we have seen. As all of our survey efforts are run by volunteers, this shows the important contributions regular citizens can make toward biodiversity conservation efforts. The first step to conservation is simply knowing what is out there.”
An additional montane red fox was detected last fall by federal biologists using remote cameras in Crater Lake National Park. Because they’re the only montane red fox native to Oregon, and because the Columbia River separates the Sierra Nevada and Cascade red fox subspecies, researchers and conservationists assume the newly found Oregon populations are Sierra Nevada red fox, but genetic tests are needed to confirm this. If they do, the newly found populations will be critical to recovery efforts.
“Sierra Nevada red foxes are some of the rarest animals on this continent, and the Endangered Species Act is their best hope for recovery,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If shown to be Sierra Nevada red fox, these newly discovered populations will help recovery efforts by increasing the subspecies’ genetic diversity and the potential for connectivity and gene exchange between populations.”
In 2011 the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Sierra Nevada red fox as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. Despite decades of protection under the California Endangered Species Act, fox populations remain perilously small and prone to extinction.
Despite the fact that even less is known about the status of montane red foxes in Oregon, the state still allows their trapping.
The Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpus vulpus necator) is a critically endangered subspecies of red fox native to the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Mountains of California and Oregon. Once widespread and occurring in low population densities, the secretive fox has undergone dramatic declines over the past century. Today it is known from only two remnant populations in California — one of fewer than 20 foxes near Lassen Peak and a second near Sonora Pass. While exact population numbers are unknown, the total number of remaining foxes likely does not exceed 50 individuals and may be fewer than 20.
The perilously small size, isolation and low reproductive potential of remaining populations make Sierra Nevada red fox particularly vulnerable to extinction. That vulnerability is magnified by threats including development, climate change, disease, fire suppression, logging, livestock grazing, wildlife control activities, hunting, trapping and recreation. Given the fox’s perilously small population, any of those threats could cause extinction or extirpation of one of its last populations.
The fox has been protected from intentional trapping in California since 1974 and listed as threatened under California’s Endangered Species Act since 1980, but its safeguards have not been extended to potential populations in Oregon and have not curbed fox population declines in recent decades. Even after 31 years of state protection in California, a coordinated, range-wide interagency program to research, monitor, protect and recover Sierra Nevada red fox populations does not exist. The resulting lack of basic ecological information about the fox therefore remains a primary threat to the species.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned Fish and Wildlife to list the fox as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2011; in December the Service issued a positive 90-day finding, initiating a full status review to evaluate the case for federal protection.