Cascade Mountain School Fox Hunt

On July 25, 2017, we headed up Stagman Ridge Trail to Horseshoe Meadow on Mt Adams to meet with a group of 14-17 year old students from Cascade Mountain School. We had a bug-attacked talk about ecosystems, ecological niches, Cascade red foxes, and the fisher re-introduction. There were ALOT of mosquitoes and black flies but also incredible vistas of the snow-bedecked mountain and lush, expansive subalpine meadow full of bright red and pink Paintbrush wildflowers. The students went into the meadow and surrounding ridges to set remote cameras in the hopes of detecting Cascade red foxes into the late summer and fall. I was joined on my hike by my friend, Victoire from Normandy. The trail meanders through the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire, which converted dense, shady mid-elevation Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock forests into bright, hot tinder and dead trees, now replete with the most vibrant and diverse wildflowers.

Cascade Mountain School students divided into 3 groups.

Group #1: Courtney, Owen, and Luca chose a spot for their remote camera based mostly on the Cascade red fox's attraction to water, and also because the fox will be in full camera range. They set the scent lure on an out-reaching branch across from the camera so the fox would be in full exposure to be caught on camera. It was also a slightly secluded area so there were less animals that may be attracted to the scent, that way other animals would be less likely to trigger the camera.

Group #2: Max, Quinn, and Shiah ventured out with scat collecting bags, a camera trap, and some scent to attract the fox. They found a game trail located on the saddle west of Horseshoe Meadow. The area was lightly treed and also near the edge of the meadow. They placed their remote camera in a tree near where they thought the fox might travel. Then on a tree across from the camera, they placed the scent to lure the foxes in.

Group #3: Clark, Jayvahn, and Oliver placed their camera in a place with many animal tracks near the creek. They believed that the site will have a lot of foot traffic and will eventually draw a fox because of abundant prey and easy access to water.


Large carnivores.

Being a mesocarnivore ecologist (someone who studies mid-sized carnivores), I am constantly stunned by how majestic and beautiful large carnivores are. We collected these photos of a mountain lion in December at the beginning of our winter field season. They are the only shots we received of a mountain lion from our mountain carnivore project. Mountain lions are just so… plain wild! I've also added a couple of my favorite photos of large carnivores from the archives.


Visits from the Cascade red fox color morphs this winter

While red foxes come in a variety of coat colors, or phases, there are three typical colors phases. The coat of a red fox does not change color with the seasons but rather stays the same throughout its year and lifetime. The cross-phase Cascade red fox, is distinguished by a dark band running down its spine and across its shoulders, forming a cross. 

The black-phase Cascade red fox, also known as a silver fox, is grizzly black and white. This individual was photographed in the Crystal Mountain area.

The better known red-phase Cascade Red Fox 

A night comparison of cross-phase and red-phase Cascade red foxes


Deep, deep winter

This has been quite the winter. Endless snow, which seems to always fall most heavily at the beginning of the month when we are trying to get out for our monthly camera checks, have hampered our best intentions. This latest cycle of high avalanche danger has made getting out near impossible as we value our lives. On top of the weather, we have had some interesting set backs including a flat tire, a wheel rolling of the trailer, a blown snowmobile cylinder, my getting the truck stuck in deep snow in the snowpark; erratic, old snowmachines, what else? I can't remember but I know there was more.


Video of a black-phase Cascade red fox

Thanks to Doug Carlton for capturing this black-phase Cascade red fox at Crystal Mountain Resort and telling us about it. This is individual is likely one of the foxes that was photographed this summer near a den we were monitoring in the area.
(c) Doug Carlton

Two young foxes (likely yearlings) photographed last summer in the same area (c) Anthony Carado

Let us know if you have seen a fox in the Cascades.


Winter Cascade red fox and wolverine surveys commence

We began Year 2 of our Winter Rare Carnivore Project collaboration with the USFS Naches Ranger District in November 2016 and results are coming in.

Looking down into drainage.

Classic, subalpine, ridge-line Cascade red fox habitat.

Veronica and Cascade red fox tracks near one of our stations.


Fishers in Washington

December was an exciting month for the Pacific Fisher in Washington! On December 2nd, as part of Washington State's Fisher Recovery Plan, ten fishers from British Columbia were released into Mt. Rainier National Park. Releases continued in Gifford Pinchot National Forest on December 10th, with more releases occurring in both areas throughout the rest of the month 
Having been essentially extirpated in Washington around the 1930's from extensive trapping and habitat loss, the fisher was determined as endangered in the state in 1998. From there, a statewide reintroduction effort was devised, kicking off with the release of 90 fishers throughout the Olympic Peninsula between 2008 and 2011. While these fishers were continuing to be monitored, reintroductions began in Washington's Southern Cascades last year, with the release of 23 total animals, in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Of these 23, fisher M007 has drawn the attention of locals within the Naches Ranger District. This March, M007 was caught on a Conservation Northwest Citizen Monitoring camera, roughly 50 miles Northwest of the release site. You can read more about his detection here: 
In mid-December, M007 was seen by a local cabin resident roughly 20 miles South of his previously photographed location and then spotted on a separate occasion in a nearby drainage less than two weeks later. 

Check out this short video of M007 captured by Christina Eglin!


Throughout this winter, releases will continue in Mount Rainier National Park and Gifford Pinchot National Forest until a total of 80 individuals have set out into the Southern Cascades. In the winters following the Southern releases, a final reintroduction effort will begin in the North Cascades area with another 80 animals. Recovering a healthy fisher population in Washington may be slow as the new fishers adjust to challenges like habitat fragmentation, but the effort and support going into their reintroduction is very exciting! As low to mid elevation carnivores, we don't expect to detect fishers on our camera traps primarily set for high elevation carnivores, yet it is not out of the realm of possibilities and we'll be keeping an eye out for their sign! 

You can stay updated on the reintroduced fishers on WDFW's page: http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/fisher/updates_cascade.html


Observing group behavior in Cascade Red Foxes

While monitoring the Crystal Mountain area last winter, we were lucky enough to observe ​5-​6 Cascade red foxes occupying overlapping​ ​home ranges. We ​believe that this fox group is composed of a mother with 2 pups, ​2 yearling foxes, and perhaps the father. With lowland foxes, where more is known, ​it is not uncommon for young from a previous breeding season to continue sharing an area with their parent, where they act as support for pup rearing and security for the den and range. Much about the behavior of ​montane red foxes, though, is ​unknown​ because of the little research that has been conducted on these subspecies. For example, there have only been a handful of mountain red fox dens documented throughout the world, but since the start of this project we have found four of them! Considering ​that ​mountain foxes have evolved​​ separately from lowland foxes for the past 300,000 years leading them to possess unique habitats and diets, we do not yet know how their behaviors compare and differ. Each Cascade red fox behavior we observe contributes to the little knowledge base on mountain foxes and is hugely exciting for us!
This upcoming season we will return to the Crystal Mountain area to continue monitoring its local foxes and their dynamics. 

(c) Anthony Carado
(c) Anthony Carado
(c) Anthony Carado

Complementary to our observations of the family group occupying the Crystal Mountain area, within the Naches Ranger District we monitored a breeding pair that frequented three camera stations from early March to the camera takedowns in late August. In mid August, we detected an additional fox, believed to be a yearling, at two of those camera stations and within the assumed home range of the breeding pair. It's possible that this fox is participating in the same group behavior as the Crystal foxes. Soon we will return to the area to reset cameras, following up on its locals. Below is a video of the Naches pair and a detection of the young fox.



Crystal Mountain Fox Den

We have had a successful season monitoring the foxes around the Crystal Mountain area! Not only were we able to observe 4-5 local foxes, we have additionally been monitoring a den system in the area. One of our remote cameras, situated at a den entrance, yielded exciting detections of a black-phase mother and two pups, up until July 31st when they abandoned the den. Instead of maintaining dens throughout the year, montane red foxes use dens primarily as a means for rearing kits, abandoning them once the young are more self-sufficient and returning to them or developing new systems with the return of mating season. 

Shortly after becoming vacant, the den was briefly entered by an elusive mountain beaver. This lesser known rodent, weighing only a few pounds, is not closely related to the North American beaver, but is the sole living member of its biological family, Aplodontiidae. Primitive traits like inefficient kidney functions, early cranial-muscular features, and an inability to conserve body heat as effectively as other rodents, make the mountain beaver somewhat of a “living fossil.” The mountain beaver is believed to be in abundance in its Pacific Northwest range from British Columbia’s Cascades, to the Olympic and Coastal mountains of Washington and Oregon, and as far South as the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California, occurring as 7 different subspecies. Living most of its life underground in burrow systems similar to fox dens, this mountain beaver seemed to be investigating the new real estate. 


2nd wolverine detected is southern Washington

Following up on some great detections of Cascade red foxes east of Mt Rainier from our collaboration the USFS Naches Ranger District, we were thrilled to also detect a wolverine. First on May 16, then again on May 24 and 28, a single individual visited two of our camera stations.
This is only our second wolverine in the eight years since the project's inception. There was a wolverine roaming an area comprising Mt Adams and the Goat Rocks Wilderness, which we detected on 12 occasions between 2009 and 2012. This wolverine was first detected on the east side of Mt Adams in 2006 when it was photographed by a remote camera of the Yakama Nation. We presume it was a lone, dispersing male, and that it may have died now, or perhaps moved on, which is less likely as it stuck around the study area for several years. There was a compelling anecdote that it had found a mate but no concrete evidence was collected.

In the contiguous United States, the wolverine roams the high mountains of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho; and west into Washington's North Cascades. Their status in southern Washington is somewhat murky. The population in the North Cascades has been moving southward, expanding geographically though probably not in abundance. But despite this expansion, they are very rarely detected south of Interstate 90. A wolverine photographed south of I90 near Manastash Ridge by a citizen's remote camera may be the same wolverine as the one we just detected east of Mt Rainier. The Manastash photograph does not show the unique markings of a wolverine, which are along the chest and under the chin, and neither do our photos provide great detail. We will continue monitoring for wolverines this coming winter and hope to shed more light on their presence and genetic origins in southern Washington.