Category Archives: Sierra Nevada Red Fox

The Sierra Nevada Red Fox

Repost from the old site.

The Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulves vulpes necator) has been rediscovered around Sonora Pass on August 11, 2010.

It was spotted by a camera that had been set up to monitor other wildlife in an area where Yosemite National Park, the Stanislaus National Forest and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest all come together. The sighting was actually on the Humboldt-Toiyabe, not on the Stanislaus as many news reports had it.

Part of the confusion may have been that the sighting was near the border between the Humboldt-Toiyabe and Stanislaus Forests. I know that the fox was not seen right at Sonora Pass. Instead, I believe it was spotted in the area to the south of the pass. I am guessing that it was seen near the Leavitt Creek area.

Saliva analysis on a sock filled with chicken parts at the bait station confirmed that it was a Sierra Nevada red fox, and that it had a rare genetic signature previously only seen in museum specimens from the 1920’s.

This is the first proof of the Sierra Nevada red fox outside the Lassen area in a very long time. It’s great news!

The only confirmed population is a tiny population of only 20 foxes in and around Lassen National Park where the Northern Sierra meets the Southern Cascades.

This area has historically seen more sightings around Lassen than any other part of California (sighting map for Northern California). This concentration is focused in Lassen, Tehama and Shasta Counties in and around Lassen Park. There have also been a few sightings in Modoc, Siskiyou and Trinity Counties.

The existence of the Sierra Nevada red fox has recently been confirmed by a team led by John Perrine of UC Berkeley. The team has located a small population of 20 Sierra Nevada red foxes existing in and around Lassen National Park in the Cascades Range. A later study proved that these were Sierra Nevada red foxes and not Eastern Red Foxes, which are abundant at the lower elevations in California.

A good description of the Lassen study, along with several rare photos of the foxes, can be found here. In the Sierras, the Sierra Nevada red fox was typically found at about 9,000 feet, with one record at 4,000, another at 5,500 and another at 7,000 feet. In the Cascades, they are usually found at around 6,000 feet, dropping down to 4,000 feet in the winter and moving up to 8,000 feet in the summer.

A report by the DFG in 1987 said the Sierra Nevada red fox was endangered, but noted that sightings continue in the rest of the Sierra Nevada outside the Cascades within the traditional range of the species.

I am aware of some recent sightings on the East side near Mammoth Mountain at high elevations.

They reportedly still exist in Mineral King south of Sequoia National Park.

In the same region, there have been a number of sightings in the Sagehen Road area near Olancha on the Inyo National Forest in the past 12 years. The sightings were at the 4-6,000 foot elevation. This is near the South Sierra Wilderness Area. Map here.

There was a reliable sighting in 1993 at Sequoia National Park.

There have been sightings of the Sierra Nevada red fox in the past 30 years on the Sierra National Forest. In 1971, a Sierra Nevada red fox was sighted at Florence Lake at about 9,000 feet. In 1973, there was a sighting at Soda Springs near Mammoth Pool Reservoir at 4,500 feet. In 1987, there was a sighting along Highway 168 between Auberry and Shaver Lake at about 4,300 feet, a very low elevation. In 1991, there was a sighting at Papoose Lake north of Lake Edison at about 10,390 feet.

There have also been a few sightings in Yosemite Valley in the past decade or so.

The last documented sighting of a Sierra Nevada red fox as near Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park in 1990. This sighting was verified via photograph. The fox was photographed in the middle of winter at about 9,000 feet.

On the Stanislaus, there have been a number of sightings around the Emigrant Wilderness, in particular something called the Waterhouse Wilderness Study Area on the northwest edge of the Emigrant Wilderness.

In Mono County, Sierra Nevada red foxes have been reported from Bridgeport Valley.

In Nevada County near Lake Tahoe, there is a sighting from 1994 along Highway 89 north of Truckee.

In addition to the Lassen area, there is also a recent sighting around Antelope Lake and around Lake Almanor and Jonesville on the Plumas National Forest.

There are recent sightings around Little Lake on the northern edge of the Lassen National Forest.

There are recent sightings around Mount Shasta and around Glass Mountain on the Klamath National Forest.

There are also recent sightings around the Trinity River near Mount Eddy on the northern edge of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

There is also a recent sighting near Canby on the Modoc National Forest.

Between 1940 and 1959, 135 Sierra Nevada red fox pelts were taken by trappers, an average of 7 per year. That number dropped to 2 per year from 1970-1974. The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) banned all Sierra Nevada red fox trapping in 1974.

The Sierra Nevada red fox has declined drastically and desperately needs Endangered Species listing.

This cool paper by C. Hart Merriam shows that Sierra Nevada red foxes were formerly common at high elevations in the Mount Shasta area, that tracks were seen almost every day (!), but the foxes were very wary and never entered the traps the researchers had set. It is interesting that fishers were also present in this area at the time.

This report makes one wonder just what it is that has driven V. v. necator to near-extinction. I strongly suspect grazing.

One of the best historical sources on the Sierra Nevada red fox is this chapter from Joseph Grinnell’s hard-to-find Furbearers of California from 1937. One thing it makes clear is that the Sierra Nevada red fox was much more common in the first four decades of the century than it is now. You can view it here.

At the time of Grinnell’s writing, this fox was preying heavily on Sierra Nevada snowshoe hares and White-tailed hares, both of which are now pretty rare in the Sierras. I wonder if that is related to their decline? The decline of the White-tailed hare in the Sierra, formerly common on the East Side, is related exclusively to grazing.

All high-elevation grazing needs to be banned from the Sierra, as it is a catastrophe. Cows do not belong in high elevation meadows. We can start by getting rid of grazing in wilderness areas (Allowing grazing in wilderness areas was the only way that the Wilderness Act of 1964 could be passed).

I am not impressed with the ability of the US Forest Service to preserve wildlife in general, not to mention sensitive or endangered species. I spent years monitoring the Sierra National Forest, and the workers I met with were some of the most corrupt and dishonest people I have ever dealt with.

The mentality was devoted to resource extraction, and even wildlife biologists, botanists and fisheries specialists routinely issued “no significant harm” findings on virtually every single Environmental Assessment Report I saw.

Even less impressive is the CDFG, though at least their heads were in the right place. Individuals working with the DFG are good people, but the Commission is run by political clowns.

There are all sorts of species that need to be listed as threatened or endangered, but the DFG has hardly made even one such listing in the last decade. The DFG has been routinely denying petitions to list any species as threatened or endangered for a decade or so now.

Further, there are questions about how much a CA T& E designation even helps a species, as the DFG seldom intervenes to help even the species they have listed as T & E.

In the early 1990’s, the CA DFG produced some excellent volumes – Reptiles and Amphibians of Special Concern in California by Mark Jennings, Fish of Special Concern in California by Peter Moyne and Threatened and Endangered Species of California.

The reports by Jennings and Moyne listed numerous species that should be listed as species of special concern, threatened or endangered. To my knowledge, 15 years later, not a single one has been listed. A prime example is that the Sierra Nevada red fox, which the DFG even admitted in 2004 was critically endangered, is still listed as “threatened” instead of “endangered”.

Even a petition to uplist it will surely be denied. The game here has been to devastate the DFG with budget cuts, even during times when the state is flush with cash. Then the DFG gets to say that they don’t have any money to list any new species. Cool game, huh?

It seems every year, the DFG gets hammered with new budget cuts, and in lush years, the money never gets reinstated. Any environmentalist who is a fiscal conservative needs to have their head examined.

The FS complains of budget cuts too, but in contrast they are actively hostile to the environment. When I was monitoring them, their whole agenda was to let grazing and logging go on to the greatest extent possible and to deny all negative impacts on the environment of such.

Go into a local FS office and the whole place, even the wildlife biologists, is avidly listening to Rush Limbaugh! Most of them, including once again wildlife biologists who supposedly believe in evolution, are members of fundamentalist churches! Go figure.

Such is the state of things in the supposedly pro-environment US. Large majorities support the environmentalist agenda, but of course the Republicans and incredibly even the Clintonista triangulating Democrats are both very hostile to the environment. There is no logical reason for either party, especially the Democrats, to take this stance.

The only explanation is that both parties are dedicated to the corporate and pro-business agenda, and the entire rest of the population, even if that means 55-98% of the population depending on the issue, can just go to Hell.

References

CDFG. 1987. Sierra Nevada Red Fox: Five-year Status Report. California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento, California, USA.

Grinnell, Joseph. 1924. Animal Life in the Yosemite. Berkeley: University of California Press, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Kucera, T. E. 1995. Recent Photograph of a Sierra Nevada Red Fox. California Fish and Game 81:43-44.

Merriam, Clinton Hart. 1899. Results of a Biological Survey of Mount Shasta, California. Washington D.C.: U. S. Department of Agriculture, Division of Biological Survey.

Perrine, J. D., J. P. Pollinger, B. N. Sacks, R. H. Barrett, and R. K. Wayne. 2007. Genetic Evidence for the Persistence of the Critically Endangered Sierra Nevada Red Fox in Northern California. Conservation Genetics 8:1083-1095.

Southern California Edison Company. 2001. Final Technical Study Plan Package (FTSPP) for the Big Creek Hydroelectric Projects (FERC Project Nos. 67, 120, 2085, and 2175). Terrestrial Resources – Chapter 13 – Mesocarnivores. Rosemead, CA.

Wildlife Conservation Board. 2002. Report to the Legislature on the Wildlife Protection Act of 1990. Annual Report – Fiscal Year 2002-2003. Sacramento: State of California.

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