U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct in-depth review of species
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY —A rare fox living in a couple of isolated pockets in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California may get Endangered Species Act protection after The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it will take a hard look at the status of the species.
The Sierra Nevada red fox is one of 10 subspecies of red fox in North America. The subspecies can be distinguished from other red fox subspecies based on morphology (form and structure), coloration, and habitat use. This subspecies is typically red, but can occur in black or silver phases. With an elongated snout, large ears, slender legs and body, and a bushy tail with a white tip, the Sierra Nevada red fox is generally smaller than other red fox subspecies in North America.
Historically, the species occupied the high elevation areas of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges from Tulare County, California, north to the Columbia River in Oregon. Currently the Sierra Nevada red fox’s distribution is thought to be restricted to two small populations: one in the vicinity of Lassen Peak at the most southerly extent of the Cascades range, and one in the vicinity of Sonora Pass, approximately 160 miles to the south in the Sierra Nevada range.
Today’s decision to review the status of the species is based on scientific information provided in a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to list the species under the Act.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that there is sufficient information in the petition to conduct a more detailed examination of the species. The petition finding does not mean that the Service has decided it is appropriate to give the fox federal protection under the ESA. Rather, this finding is the first step in a long process that triggers a more thorough review of all available biological information.
To ensure this status review is comprehensive, the Service is soliciting information from state and federal natural resource agencies and all interested parties regarding the fox and its habitat.This announcement opens a 60-day public comment period, which closes March 29, 2012. The Service encourages submission of any relevant scientific and commercial data regarding this species. Useful information for the review includes biological information, genetics, habitat needs, historic and current range and populations, habitat and conservation measures.
Based on the status review, the Service will make one of three possible determinations:
1) Listing is not warranted, in which case no further action will be taken.
2) Listing as threatened or endangered is warranted. In this case, the Service will publish a proposal to list, solicit independent scientific peer review of the proposal, seek input from the public, and consider the input before a final decision about listing the species is made. In general, there is a one-year period between the time a species is proposed and the final decision.
3) Listing is warranted but precluded by other, higher priority activities. This means the species is added to the federal list of candidate species, and the proposal to list is deferred while the Service works on listing proposals for other species that are at greater risk. A warranted but precluded finding requires subsequent annual reviews of the finding until such time as either a listing proposal is published, or a not warranted finding is made based on new information.
The fox once ranged throughout the Sierra Nevada and Cascades in California and Oregon.
“There are about 50 of these beautiful animals left, eking out a living in about 4 percent of their historical range,” said the Justin Augustine, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But the Endangered Species Act can save them if it’s used — the Act has a 99 percent success rate saving species from extinction. The government’s decision to study this irreplaceable fox through a status review means the fox is one step closer to getting the protection it needs to survive.”
During the summer, Sierra red foxes prefer high-elevation habitats; during the winter they rely on lower elevation, mature, closed-canopy forest. Until recently, these foxes were thought to be confined to one relict population near Lassen Peak, but remote camera monitors detected three foxes near Sonora Pass in the summer of 2010. Researchers recently extended the fox’s historical range northward through Oregon’s Cascade Mountains to the Columbia River, but the last possible sighting of a Sierra Nevada red fox in Oregon occurred in 2001.
The fox has been listed as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act since 1980, but little has been done by the state to recover the species. Today’s decision from the Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that the fox’s small population size, combined with threats like ORV use, means the species is at high risk of extinction.
“Federal listing is the best hope for saving this animal,” said Augustine. “We look forward to the status review and hope the Sierra red fox will get the Endangered Species Act protections it needs and deserves.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service has one year to complete its status review and decide whether the Sierra red fox should receive protection.
To download the Center’s petition, click here.
To read more about the fox, click here.
Anyone wishing to submit information regarding this species may do so in one of the following two ways:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Search docket FWS-R8-ES-2011-0103 and follow instructions for submitting comments.
- U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2011-0103, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
Comments must be received within March 29, 2012. We will not accept e-mail or faxes. We will post all information we receive on http://www.regulations.gov.
Filed under: biodiversity, endangered species, Environment, Summit County news, wildlife Tagged: | biodiversity, Center for Biological Diversity, endangered species, endangered species act, Environment, Sierra Nevada red fox