Sierra Nevada red fox to be listed as federally endangered

Federal wildlife officials have decided to list the Sierra Nevada red fox as an endangered species

By SCOTT SONNER Associated Press

August 3, 2021, 12:52 AM

• 3 min read

RENO, Nev. — The slender, bushy-tailed Sierra Nevada red fox will be listed as an endangered species. Federal wildlife officials announced Monday, saying its population has dipped to just 40 animals in California, stretching from Lake Tahoe to the south of Yosemite National Park. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided against listing a distinct population of the foxes in the southern Cascade Range of Oregon and near Lassen Peak in Northern California.

But a listing rule published in the Federal Register on Tuesday said that the Sierra Nevada segment south of Tahoe “is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range.” “While the exact number remains unknown and is also subject to change with new births and deaths, it is well below population levels that would provide resiliency, redundancy, and representation to the population.” It did not estimate the number of red foxes remaining in the Cascade Range.

Sierra Nevada

One of the rarest mammals in North America, the red foxes in the Sierra are already vulnerable due to threats of wildfire, drought, competition in coyotes, reductions in prey, and inbreeding with non-native foxes. Additional future hazards include climate change, as scientists project continuing loss of snowpack and of the general subalpine habitat to which the Sierra Nevada population segment has adapted, the agency said. The service said this would likely lead to increased coyotes in high-elevation areas and increased competition between coyotes and the Sierra Nevada foxes for prey.

California banned red fox trapping in 1974. The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned for federal protection in 2011 and filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2019 before the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the species for addition to the endangered list in 2020. Some biologists believed 20 years ago, the Sierra Nevada population had already gone extinct before a small remnant population was confirmed in 2010. The Sierra Nevada red fox has declined dramatically because of poisoning and trapping, habitat destruction from logging and livestock grazing, and disturbance from off-road vehicles and snowmobiles, said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate for the center. He said the animals face the same threats in the Cascade Mountains to Mount Hood, Oregon.

“This is an important step, but the Fish and Wildlife Service should also protect these imperiled animals in the Cascades,” he said Monday. The Sierra Nevada red fox is one of 10 North American subspecies of the red fox. The small, doglike carnivores stretch about 3.5 feet (1.1 meters) long and have elongated snouts, pointed ears, and large tails. They are specially equipped to adapt to cold, snowy areas with deep winter coats and small toe pads. They feed on small mammals.

The Fish and Wildlife Service noted it is not proposing the designation of critical habitat for the species at this time because habitat “does not appear to be a limiting factor for the species.” The agency estimates the 18 to 39 animals remaining in the Sierra extend south of California State Highway 88 from just south of Lake Tahoe into the easternmost portion of Yosemite Park in Tuolumne and Madera counties, as well as parts of Alpine, Mono, Fresno, and Inyo counties. Most of the foxes — between 10 and 31 — are known to occupy an area north of Yosemite. About five have been spotted just east of Yosemite, and three have been identified south of Yosemite in the general area of Mono Creek. All sightings have been on federal land.

Tyson Houlding
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