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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The small, remnant Sierra Red Fox that inhabits northern California got a public relations "visiblitiy boost" with a lone "Sierra Red" spotted via a camera trap in Yosemite National Park on January 4...........This is the first verified sighting of this endangerd canid in Yosemite in the last 100 years!...........Never thought to be abundant(From 1940 to 1959, 135 pelts were taken by trappers and that number shrunk down to 2 pelts a year by the 1970's), the "Sierra Red" historically was found in alpine dwarf-shrub, wet meadow, subalpine conifer, lodgepole pine, red fir, aspen, montane chaparral, montane riparian, mixed conifer, and ponderosa pine habitat................ Jeffrey pine, eastside pine, and montane hardwood-conifer also saw usage by this fox species.................. These Foxes exisited alongside the marten and wolverine in these forest types. ..............This fox at one time inhabited the northern California Cascades eastward to the northern Sierra Nevada and then south along the Sierran crest to Tulare County.............Thought to be exterminated a century ago due to logging and cattle grazing destroying their preferred habitat, in 2010, a small population of these foxes(at most 15 individuals) were verified to be alive in the Sonora Pass region, north of Yosemite............Park Researchers will begin work with other conservation organizations to seek to give the "Sierra Red" every possible chance to re-wild successfully across it's historical terrain

A photo of the Sierra Nevada Red Fox taken by Yosemite’s motion-sensitive camera.

Rare Sierra Nevada Red Fox Sighted

 In Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park officials said a rare
Sierra Nevada red fox has
 been sighted in the park for the first time in
nearly 100 years.
Yosemite officials say park wildlife biologists
had gone on a five-day
 backcountry trip to the far northern part of the
 park to check on 
previously deployed motion-sensitive cameras.
 They documented 
a sighting of the fox inside the park on two
 separate instances in 
mid-December and on January 4.

The Sierra Nevada red fox of California is one
of the rarest 
mammals in North America, likely consisting
of fewer than 50 individuals.
"We are thrilled to hear about the sighting of
the Sierra Nevada 
red fox, one of the most rare and elusive animals
in the Sierra 
Nevada,” said Don Neubacher, Yosemite National ParkSuperintendent, 
in a news release. “National parks like Yosemite
provide habitat for all
 wildlife and it is encouraging to see that the red
fox was sighted in the park.”

The Park says the nearest verified occurrences
of Sierra Nevada red 
foxes have been in the Sonora Pass area, north of
 the park, where 
biologists from UC Davis, California Department
 of Fish and Wildlife,
 and the U.S. Forest Service have been monitoring
a small Sierra 
Nevada red fox population, first documented by
the USFS in 2010.
Prior to 2010, the last verified sighting of a
Sierra Nevada red fox in 
the region was two decades ago, according
to Yosemite officials. 
“Confirmation of the Sierra Nevada red fox
in Yosemite National Park’s 
vast alpine wilderness provides an opportunity
to join research partners
 in helping to protect this imperiled animal,”
 said Sarah Stock, Wildlife 
Biologist in Yosemite National Park. “We’re
excited to work across our
 boundary to join efforts with other researchers
 that will ultimately give 
these foxes the best chances for recovery.”
The Yosemite carnivore crew will continue to
survey for Sierra Nevada 
red fox using remote cameras in hopes of
detecting additional individuals, 
officials said Wednesday. At each camera
station, the crew also set up 
hair snare stations in the hopes of obtaining
hair samples for genetic analysis. 

Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator)


Red Fox
The Sierra Nevada red fox is distinguished from members of the introduced lowland population of red foxes by its slightly smaller size and darker colored fur.  Red fox fur was sought after by trappers during the early part of last century because it was softer than California's grey fox. Sierra Nevada populations have been reduced by grazing in meadows, which reduces prey populations, and by trapping, logging, and recreational disturbances. Human activities of any significant degree in areas of core habitat will certainly put pressure on this highly endangered species. Given the low numbers of the Sierra Nevada red fox and the increase of non-native red fox population, particularly in the Central Valley of California, competition from this non-native species is increasingly a concern for the Sierra Nevada subspecies.


The range of the Sierra Nevada red fox is limited to the conifer forests and rugged alpine landscape of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges between 4,000 feet and 12,000 feet. Preferred habitat for the Sierra Nevada red fox appears to be red fir and lodgepole pine forests in the subalpine zone and alpine fell-fields of the Sierra Nevada. Open areas are used for hunting, forested habitats for cover and reproduction. Edges are utilized extensively for tracking and stalking prey. The red fox hunts in forest openings, meadows, and barren rocky areas associated with its high elevation habitats. Found mostly above 6,000 feet in the summer months, Sierra Nevada populations were historically found in a variety of habitats, including alpine dwarf-shrub, wet meadow, subalpine conifer, lodgepole pine, red fir, aspen, montane chaparral, montane riparian, mixed conifer, and ponderosa pine. Jeffrey pine, eastside pine, and montane hardwood-conifer also are used. This species is known to inhabit vegetation types similar to those used by the marten and wolverine. The range of the Red fox is from the northern California Cascades eastward to the northern Sierra Nevada and then south along the Sierran crest to Tulare County.


The current range and distribution of Sierra Nevada red fox is unknown.  Because of this and the scientific certainty of its hazardously low numbers, greater research is needed to ascertain the full extent of the red foxes range. Recent research conducted in the vicinity of Lassen Peak, has begun the process of understanding exactly how rare the native Sierra Nevada red fox is. This research conducted in the late 1990's estimated that only 10-15 individuals were likely present in the Lassen Peak area--a number certainly low enough to cause concern over the possibility of localized extinction and highly endangered status throughout its historic range. Other historical evidence related to the Sierra Nevada red fox has led scientists to believe that it likely never occurred in large numbers.  From 1940 to 1959, 135 pelts were taken by trappers and that number shrunk down to 2 pelts a year by the 1970's.  It is possible that red fox numbers were declining before these statistics were collected but in either case the Sierra Nevada red fox has certainly been in serious trouble for a very long time. The State of California banned red fox trapping in 1974.


Until this summer (2010), the only known current population has been in the vicinity of Lassen Peak in Lassen Volcanic National Park, and also within Lassen National Forest. Periodic sightings have been reported by inexperienced observers throughout the rest of the Sierra Nevada but have not been documented by experts. In August, Forest Service biologists retrieved photographs from a bait station trail camera near Sonora Pass. DNA retrieved from saliva found on the tooth punctures in the bait bag was then analyzed by canid researchers Ben Sacks and Mark Statham at the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory. Sacks and his colleagues confirmed that the DNA was from the rare Sierra Nevada red fox.

The Sierra Nevada red fox is genetically very distinct from red fox populations in coastal lowlands, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. These red foxes are derived from introduced foxes from the eastern United States (and Alaska). The Sacramento Valley subspecies is a genetically distinct native species, however.

The Sierra Nevada red fox is so uncommon that the California Fish and Game Commission declared it threatened in 1980 and it is considered critically endangered by the California Department of Fish and Game. The U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station lists the Sierra Nevada red fox as a sensitive species.

According to a UC Davis press release, research from Sacks and his colleagues includes these findings to date:
  • There are native California red foxes still living in the Sierra Nevada.
  • The native red foxes in the Sacramento Valley (V.v. patwin) are a subspecies genetically distinct from those in the Sierra.
  • The two native California subspecies, along with Rocky Mountain and Cascade red foxes (V.v. macroura and V. v. cascadensis), formed a single large western population until the end of the last ice age, when the three mountain subspecies followed receding glaciers up to mountaintops, leaving the Sacramento Valley red fox isolated at low elevation.

Scientific Research

Supporting Resources

California Department of Fish and Game Natural History Information (URL) --This California state website contains rather limited and old information but is a good basic background composite for the species. Choose from a drop-down list to select the animal you are interested in.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating--I never knew there was an endangered subspecies of red fox! Just more evidence to refute another of my pet peeves, that red foxes are NOT native to North America! A most beloved erroneous notion by MANY--often printed in textbooks and seen on documentaries! The basis for this notion is, of course, that British fox hunters brought the red fox from England, which they DID--they brought SOME to the eastern seaboard--, but what folks don't realize is that doesn't mean there weren't already red foxes in many places throughout North America(long enough to develop distinct subspecies, for crying out loud!)--the only question is WHERE exactly they were located--certainly in the Northern and Western parts of the continent. Red foxes ARE NOT an "invasive" species! Even if some bloodlines have a bit of Brit in their ancestry!....L.B.

Rick Meril said...

all true L.B.............most recent peer reviewed data reinforces that red foxes were present in the east alongside gray foxes,,,,,,,,but likely not huge numbers as the forest favored gray foxes and their ability to climb land was cleared, red foxes increased in numbers, supplemented by european introduction