SciSun: Seeing Red   Leave a comment

Foxes – the small, dog-like animal typically thought of as being chased by over-dressed horsemen playing brass bugles as they ride across an English countryside – are actually mis-represented by this clichéd scene. While some people believe it’s fun and acceptable to chase a lone, frightened animal using dozens of yelping dogs and trained fox-hunting horses, most fox go through their lives living solitary, and if they’re fortunate, un-tormented lives. Found on every continent except Antarctica, the fox is generally one of the most successful small carnivores on earth (well, actually more omnivore, as most any fox will be happy to eat berries, herbs, or even mushrooms in addition to eggs, fish and small animals). Multiple fox species were widespread until they were targeted for being nuisances as humans moved further and further into what were open spaces; and the animals were labeled as being sneaky and deceitful; and they started being chased with horses and dogs. Just like so many other wildlife, it’s become every fox for him- or her-self.

While they may not exactly be the cavalry rushing to the rescue (that would involve even more horses, which foxes already have enough problems with), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has recently come to the aid of the Sierra Nevada Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes necator), a rare – and now under official review for threatened or endangered classification – variety believed to be restricted to narrow regions of the northern Sierra Nevada mountains in California and southern Cascade range in Oregon. Historically, this sub-species of the ‘standard’ Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) lived throughout mountainous regions of the far west, extending from southern California possibly into Washington. Due to pressures from increasing human development, changing climate, hunting, and introduction of non-native fox species – virtually all results of the California gold rush, beginning around 1850 and opening the Pacific West to what became a great human migration – the Sierra Fox has steadily been forced into more remote mountainous regions. In the late 1800’s ‘observers’ (hunters and trappers) had reported the fox common at about 4,500 feet; in 1906 a naturalist could find the fox only above altitudes of 6,000 feet; by 1925 no foxes were seen below 9,000 feet and were considered extinct along much of their natural range.

“I've heard off-season is the best time to visit Yosemite, but there's, like, no one else here!”

“I’ve heard off-season is the best time to visit Yosemite, but there’s, like, no one else here!”

Today there are believed to be less than 50 Sierra Red Fox. No one is certain how many individuals are necessary to sustain a population, or exactly where their territory starts and ends, which are two topics to be researched under the USFWS review. If the animals are forced to move even further into the wilderness in search for food or solitude, there’s concern that they may be running out of room – some locations in the Sierra Nevada are so high, it would be impossible for fox to live at that altitude. However in a hopeful surprise, in the winter of 2014 – 2015 a Sierra Fox was sighted within Yosemite National Park, the first seen in the park – and at that lower altitude (only about 7000 feet, more than a mile high!), in 100 years. While possibly not holding the same ecological impact as the re-introduction of the Wolf (Canis lupus) into their native range; or the discovery of a Wolverine (Gulo gulo) in the Sierra; establishing, protecting, and sustaining the population of Sierra Fox is significant not only for the survival of a unique species; but as a part to a whole that we, as humans in all our understanding, don’t really understand. Every species in its native environment has a purpose, a reason, and a cause for being. The Sierra Red Fox, or any other of the almost 100 species, subspecies, and varieties of fox live solitary, singular, and remote lives and have existed tens of thousands of years longer than man, who has only learned to use tools or live outside of caves in what’s essentially a blink of an eye. Maybe it’s now our responsibility – and purpose – to find and keep a place for them in a world that man has changed far more quickly than evolution could have ever prepared.


Michonne Says: Foxes?!? I don’t like the sound of that. Everybody knows they are dangerous and they chase you and dig holes into your burrow and snarl with sharp dangerous teeth and stinky breath. I’ve never been chased by one myself. And none have been close to my burrow. I imagine they do have sharp teeth but I can’t say they really have stinky breath. But everybody knows it.

Posted October 18, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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