SAVING THE SIERRA NEVADA RED FOX
The largest of the true foxes, red foxes are also the most widespread, found across the entire northern hemisphere. But secretive Sierra Nevada red foxes — genetically and geographically distinct from all other red foxes — can only live in the remote, high-elevation reaches of the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Mountains.
Born into one of three color phases (red, black or cross), they’re distinguishable from other native foxes by their black-backed ears and white-tipped tails. They’re a bit smaller and lighter than lowland foxes, which — along with their extra-furry toe pads — helps them walk on snow.
Unfortunately there are very few Sierra Nevada red foxes left. They’re among the rarest mammal species in North America.
Already highly vulnerable to extinction due to their perilously small population size and reduced genetic diversity, these foxes face many dire threats, including habitat loss from logging and livestock grazing, disturbance by recreational vehicles, and nonnative foxes. Foxes introduced for hunting, or escaped from fur farms, pose significant threats due to interbreeding, competition for resources, and disease transmission.
Sierra Nevada red foxes are also endangered by climate change, which has already caused hotter and drier conditions that are projected to shrink the foxes’ habitat as temperatures warm and push the animals farther up mountain slopes.
To save these imperiled foxes before the last few disappear, in 2011 the Center petitioned to protect them under the Endangered Species Act. After agency delay, we went to court and reached a 2013 legal agreement requiring the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a decision on protection. But in 2015 the Service only added the species to a candidate waiting list, where it languished for years.
So we sued again in 2019.
Finally, with likely fewer than 40 of these foxes left in California, in 2021 the Service protected them as endangered — but only in California, from Yosemite National Park to Kings Canyon, even though they face the same threats in Oregon, from the Cascades to Mt. Hood. We’re fighting for federal safeguards in the Cascades as well.