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Low Profile Species Receives High Profile Treatment


Fri Feb 20 00:00:00 MST 2004

Unlike the wolf or the grizzly bear, there isn’t much buzz about the swift fox.  But in the scientific community, this tiny 5-pound canine has a high profile.

In 1998, a group of wildlife biologists and endangered species experts from 15 states, three provinces and seven countries met to define the state of “swift fox science” and what it will take to conserve these creatures who now inhabit short grass prairie environments.

These research findings are now available in a single paperback volume, “The Swift Fox: Ecology And Conservation Of Swift Foxes In A Changing World.” Sections devoted to swift fox in Montana are “The Historic and Recent Status of the Swift Fox in Montana,” and “The Status and Ecology of Swift Foxes in North-Central Montana.” The book can be ordered from the Canadian Plains Research Center at 306-585-4758 or online at .

The swift fox, once common in the Great Plains from Canada to Texas, are the smallest canids in North America standing only 12 inches tall. They have dark gray fur on their backs going to tan on the sides and legs, black-tipped tails and black muzzle patches.

In Montana, the last recorded historic observation of the swift fox was in 1918 before the species was declared extirpated, or totally absent from the landscape. Swift fox populations may have been wiped out, in part, by poisoned bait and traps placed for coyote and wolf eradication in the early 1900’s.

Sightings began occurring again in the late 1970’s due to dispersal of individual foxes from nearby states and following a Canadian border reintroduction program in the mid-1980’s. The species is now reestablished in north central Montana.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks funded various swift fox projects in Montana since 1996, including a two-year research study on swift fox ecology, a three-year statewide species distribution survey, and a population census in north central Montana.

Swift fox have been re-introduced on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, beginning in 1998, in a collaborative, mainly nongovernmental effort that will continue this summer, including monitoring of the population.

The prey available to the foxes will be surveyed with funds from the State Wildlife Grants program administered by FWP. This federal grant program provides funds that, when matched with non-federal dollars, can be used for on-the-ground management and research projects for species such as the swift fox.

The swift fox is harmless to people and livestock and it tends to eat ground squirrels, mice, grasshoppers, berries and seeds.

For more on swift fox, go to the FWP web site at, click on Wild Things, select State Wildlife Grants under Hot Topics and go to Species of Concern.