SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. January 16, 2013 - The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency's failure to protect the Sierra Nevada red fox as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The Center petitioned for protection of the fox in April 2011 based on the precarious status of these mountain-loving animals, of which fewer than 50 individuals are currently known to exist.
"Sierra Nevada red foxes are without a doubt among the rarest, most critically endangered mammals in North America," said the Center's Wildlands Campaign Director Taylor McKinnon. "They need Endangered Species Act protection right now to avoid extinction."
Sierra Nevada red foxes live in remote, high mountains. Once widespread throughout the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains south of the Columbia River, the species has declined precipitously over the past century. It's threatened by extinction because of its small population size and reduced genetic diversity, driven by logging, grazing, poisoning, trapping, and off-road, over-snow and highway vehicles. Climate change is projected to shrink the fox's habitat even more drastically as warming pushes the animal farther up mountain slopes.
Only two California populations of Sierra Nevada red foxes are known today. One, near Lassen Peak, includes only 20 breeding foxes. Eight foxes have been confirmed on Sonora Pass since 2010, when a population was discovered there. In 2011 and 2012 photos near Crater Lake, Sparks Lake and Mt. Hood, Ore., captured images of what are thought to be Sierra Nevada red foxes; however, tests are still needed to ascertain their genetics. Extensive remote camera surveys have not found any other foxes that could be the Sierra Nevada species.
Active at night, Sierra Nevada red foxes den in earthen cavities, winter in mature forest and summer in high meadows, fell fields, talus slopes and shrub lands. Their diet consists of rodents, other small mammals, fruit, birds, insects and carrion. They are born into one of three color phases (red, black and cross) and are distinguishable from other native foxes by their black-backed ears and white-tipped tails.
Despite being protected as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act in 1980, Sierra Nevada red foxes lack a range-wide recovery strategy and a cohesive research and monitoring program to fill key information gaps that plague efforts to conserve them. Oregon (and Nevada) still allow trapping of the fox.
"By protecting these foxes' habitat and providing a roadmap to recovery, with different levels of government cooperating to keep them from extinction, the Endangered Species Act is these animals' last, best hope for survival," said McKinnon. "These safeguards are long overdue and desperately needed, and I hope the Service will enact them without us having to file a lawsuit."
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