‘Good news… for people who love California’s wild creatures’

A rare Sierra Nevada red fox. Courtesy Yosemite National Park

I asked Sierra Nevada red fox expert John Perrine if the recent sighting of a Sierra Nevada red fox at Yosemite National Park portends well for the species’ recovery. There are only about 50 of these foxes in the world (they are not the same as common red foxes).

Perrine’s response:

It certainly seems like good news…  For a while, the Lassen population was the only known remnant population of California’s native mountain red fox, which was concerning, because it was a very small, highly localized population.  The discovery of additional fox populations in other areas suggests that California’s mountain red fox is more abundant and more widespread than previously thought.  It is also a reminder of how solitary, elusive, and secretive these animals can be, because these populations have persisted for decades in the wilderness backcountry.

Of course, there could be negatives as well.  It is possible that some change in the foxes’ habitat has caused them to move more closely to human-occupied areas.  But that is pure speculation on my part.  At this point, I’m going to be optimistic and say that the available evidence is good news for foxes and for people who love California’s wild creatures.    

Perrine said there have been unconfirmed sightings in Yosemite for years. While genetic tests have not yet been conducted, he said he assumes that the Yosemite fox photographed recently would be more closely affiliated with the fox population at nearby Sonora Pass than the foxes at Lassen.

More than a decade ago, I accompanied Perrine into the Lassen backcountry in an effort to find foxes that had been equipped with radio collars. It was one of the first environment stories I ever wrote, so long ago that I can’t even find a link today.

As I recall we found a fox curled up beneath a gnarled tree only a half-mile or so off Highway 89. He/she was sleeping soundly and did not seem at all disturbed. It’s a moment I remember well, even if the Internet doesn’t.

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