The decision was announced last week via a statement from Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW). Initially, Mount Rainier wildlife ecologists recommended the sub-species of red fox be listed as a threatened subspecies.
Specifically, the Cascade red fox is a somewhat atypical-looking subspecies native to Washington’s southern Cascade Mountains. According to WDFW’s website, Cascade red foxes occur in three color phases: red, cross, and silver/black, which is common across red fox species. For Cascades, all three phases have been seen within a single litter of pups.
The subspecies exists only in alpine habitats such as high-elevation meadows and upper montane forests. In the past, populations of red fox became cut off from one another, eventually leading to this unique offshoot in this habitat. Currently, no Cascades are found north of the state’s Interstate 90 corridor, and conservationists are wary of their disappearance altogether.
The Cascade red fox is “presumably adept to colder climates,” WDFW adds. This, the agency says, makes them particularly vulnerable to climate change. As the planet warms, suitable habitat for these foxes is rapidly disappearing.
A warming climate also brings reduced snowpack, which “may negatively impact this subspecies by promoting forest encroachment into suitable parkland and meadows and/or facilitating movement of coyotes (a potential competitor and predator) into the range of Cascade red foxes,” WDFW continues.
WDFW Planning Recovery Plan for Cascade Red Fox
Currently, Cascades only inhabit around half of their historic range. These rare and fleeting foxes once spanned all the way up into British Columbia’s alpine territories. And if the government does not act, the foxes are likely to go extinct within the coming decades.
This has, however, sprung Washington conservationists into action. Over the next several years, WDFW and their Fish and Wildlife Commission plan to develop a “recovery plan” for the subspecies. Mount Rainier National Park’s report is placing pressure on state agencies for action now rather than later.
Like coyotes, who continue to outfox these foxes, the Cascade subspecies is a keystone species in its habitat. These mid-sized predators hold a vital role in their ecosystems food chain. Without them, prey animals like rodents may breed at much higher numbers. This can also offer coyotes – often considered a nuisance – room for further feeding and multiplying, as well.
As a result, WDFW aims to complete in-depth studies and reviews of its resident population. And with any luck, this beautiful red fox subspecies will bounce back in the coming decade.