A small fox was killed, which appears to be the animal mentioned by Lewis and Clark, in the account of their travels, under the name of the burrowing fox...Ii runs with extraordinary swiftness, so much so, that when at full speed its course has been, by the hunters, compared to the flight of a bird skimming the surface of the earth."
-Say 1820; in James 1823.
We're using trail cameras baited with scent lure to look for swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas. Swift fox used to be very common. Unfortunately, they are absent from over half of their historical range due to previous predator control programs (extensive poisoning), increased coyote densities, and altered grazing and fire regimes.
State wildlife agencies prioritize surveying for swift fox every 5-10 years, to help monitor population trends. We're working with the state agencies in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas to complete their next round of surveys using trail cameras.
One of the most important aspects of this project is partnership with private landowners. If you are interested in participating in the surveys, use the contact information to let us know!
operation fox finder: Montana
Check out these images of the camera survey stations and cool swift fox behaviors. Click on an image to enlarge and scroll!
Our first surveys were conducted in Montana between August - December 2015. We set a total of 470 cameras and observed foxes in 27 unique locations; the majority of these were in northern Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has continued to carry the torch, and has generated 27 MORE sightings in the southeastern part of Montana as a result! We are currently seeking funding to gather baseline ecological data (population size, reproduction, survival and dispersal) for this species in southeastern Montana, and to develop a high school curriculum which will get students outdoors while they learn about swift fox and grasslands ecology and conservation in the Northern Great Plains.
Scroll through these pictures for examples of the other species found during our Montana surveys.
operation fox finder
THE FOXY LADIES MONTANA RESEARCH TEAM
This project involves the efforts of many people for whom I lack a photograph, so let me acknowledge them here. Additional partners on the camera survey effort include: Bob Inman, Heather Harris, Ryan Rauscher, Megan O'Reilly, Brandi Skone, Kristina Smucker, and Ashley Taylor (Montana FWP); Patrick Isakson (North Dakota G&F); Kyran Kunkel (American Prairie Reserve); Dan Carney (Blackfeet Reservation); Clayvin Herrera (Crow Reservation); Kylie Paul and Steve Forrest (Defenders of Wildlife); Michael Kinsey (Fort Belknap Reservation); Les Bighorn (Fort Peck Reservation); Ryan Rock (Landmark Adventure Science); and Marissa Spang (Northern Cheyenne Reservation). Funding is provided by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Oregon State University, World Wildlife Fund, Montana Fish, Widlife and Parks, North Dakota Game and Fish, Blackfeet, Crow, Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne, and Defenders of Wildlife.
Imagery Review Team Leader, OSU
Field Techician, WWF
Field Technician, OSU
We started the first of two years of trail camera surveys for swift fox in Texas in August 2017. Swift fox historically existed across the Texas panhandle, but are currently only known to persist in two counties: Dallam and Sherman, in the far north-west corner of the Panhandle. From August until ~ December, we will be talking to landowners, setting cameras and doing some mark-recapture work. We will also collect scats and tissue samples to assess genetic diversity in this small population.
Check back for updates! We are currently in the field and will update information as we go. You can also follow our progress on the project's facebook page: fb.me/operationfoxfinder.
operation fox finder: Texas
Photo by Emily Mitchell
In partnership with South Dakota State University, South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, and World Wildlife Fund, we conducted a camera trap survey for swift fox in South Dakota from August - December 2016. This information will be paired with survey information collected by North Dakota Game & Fish in 2015. We are also collecting baseline ecological data for this population, as this is the first study conducted in this area. We are very excited about the results thus far - the population was larger in terms of size and distribution than anticipated!
Emily Mitchell is a Master's student in the Department of Natural Resources Management at South Dakota State University, and it is thanks to her hard work that we are learning so much about this population. Here is how she describes the focus of her work:
"I am studying swift fox and sympatric canid distributions, swift fox disease, population viability and den site selection in northwest South Dakota and southwest North dakota. In the fall of 2016 I conducted a systematic trail camera survey for swift fox and sympatric canids in the SD portion of my study area, and in the fall of 2016-spring of 2017 I live trapped 36 swift foxes and collared 26 of them. I am still actively tracking 19 of these foxes, with only 2 known mortalities in the last year!"
A swift fox family enjoys the warm spring sunshine.
Emily with a newly collard fox and
an admiring audience of sheep.
Double click on the first image to enlarge this slide show of images from Emily's project.
What does the fox say??
Click here to find out!
operation fox finder: The Dakotas
Photo By Andrew Butler
I partner with Clemson University's Swift Fox Connectivity project, lead by Dr. David Jachowski, which is being conducted in the 'international population'. This population is the result of 10 years of intensive translocation effort in Canada, where the species was extirpated. The population has since expanded into northern Montana, but expansion stopped north of the Milk River. The project aims are to explore limits to population expansion and assess resource utilization patterns.
Andrew Butler (left), is a Master's student on this project, and leads the field work and data analysis. Andrew's research focuses on identifying and understanding the mechanisms underlying swift fox habitat use and estimating survival and reproductive rates in northeastern Montana. This project is the first large scale use of GPS collars to understand swift fox ecology. So far, results indicate that land cover, grassland aggregation, topography, and presence of gravel roads may be important to habitat use. Stay tuned for further updates!
Watch a fox exit stage right after being collared
Getting fitted for some neck jewelry
Ms. Fox's glorious winter tail