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.


Mountain lion family

We photographed a family of four mountain lions spending time at one of our remote camera station. The 3 juveniles would have been born in early spring 2015 so its a testament to their caring mother that these triplets have survived their first year. Mountain lions females typically give birth to two to three kittens.

To learn more about the life of a mountain lion family, check out this great video: The Secret Life of Mountain Lions. Wolverine researchers in Glacier National Park were surprised to see a wolverine male return to his kits in the autumn and spend time probably teaching them his survival skills, something rarely documented in other carnivore species. But this incredible mountain lion film shows that this same type of family bond may not be so rare.


The Mazamas article: Cascade red foxes and the project in the news.

I wrote about my doctoral research and work on the Cascades Carnivore Project for The Mazamas magazine.
Contact us if you are interested in hiking and collecting rare carnivore scats this summer. We are looking for dedicated volunteers for our citizen science team.
    (c) Logan Volkmann
    (c) Anthony Carado
    (c) Anthony Carado
    (c) Bob Rae


Black-phase mountain red fox visits our station on the south side of Mt Adams

As some of you will remember, this station was originally set by Cascade Mountain Schools students in August. Long-time CCP friend and volunteer, Erin Burke and I headed up to take down the camera last week with my son, Luca (age almost 1). We both dusted the cobwebs off our snowmobiling skills while Luca slept on my back.
Cascade Mountain School team


Cascade red fox track in the snow at Mt Rainier

Often it is difficult to distinguish red fox from coyote tracks, especially when tracking conditions are poor. This track was laid down by a Cascade red fox at Mt Rainier as I visited her den.


New photos from Mt Adams

A couple of mystery carnivore photos below and a little fawn and its momma at the bottom. Send us your best guesses: cascadescarnivore@gmail.com


What does marten scat look like?

We have partnered with Friends of the Central Cascades Wilderness in an effort to survey for the Sierra Nevada red fox on the Deschutes National Forest.

Guest post by Todd West, Friends of the Central Cascades Wilderness.

American martens (Martes americana) share habitat with montane red foxes (Vulpes vulpes cascadensis, V. v. necator) and coyotes (Canis latrans), and their scats are often encountered along trails when we look for fox sign.  As the smallest of these three carnivores, their scats are also the smallest, typically 1/4 of an inch in diameter or a little bigger (5-8mm) and two to four inches long (5-10 cm). Practice is needed to consistently distinguish them.  Often bent or curled up, marten scats are dark in color, often dark green, and commonly exhibit a plated look from curls of hair within the scat.  Over time, digested material will erode away from the scats, leaving bundles of curled hair.  Larger marten scats occasional exceed 3/8 of an inch diameter (10 mm) and five inches length (13 cm), approaching the size of red fox scats. However, they can be distinguished from fox scats by their twisty ends and tighter plating compared to the tubular look of fox scats.

Here are a few photos of individual marten scats which have been identify by DNA sequencing.

Hair bundles from several older marten scats appear in the photo below.  This sample was also mtDNA confirmed.

The remainder of the photos below are of scats which have been visually identified as marten but not mtDNA sequenced.  As above, a variety of size, shape, and dryness is shown.

When berries are available scats shift color and consistency.  This marten had apparently been consuming ripe huckleberries in the Mount Washington Wilderness.

It is common to encounter multiple scats near each other.  In this case an older marten scat appears at upper left with a fresher one at lower right.

As with other species, scats are typically left in the middle of the trail and less commonly along the sides.  If a trail has prominences, such as rocks or roots, in its tread martens may preferred these locations for scats.  The rock below provided a step in the middle of the trail with two fresher scats at left and an older, somewhat rain spread, scat at right.

Scat grouping also occurs across species.  In the below example the small, fresher marten scat just above the GPS was laid next to a coyote scat (also visually identified and not DNA tested).

Marten scats may be left repeatedly in some areas, increasing the size of the group.  The below image contains three or perhaps four scats of increasing age.  Larger groups often have additional smaller groups nearby, with occasionally as many as 7 to 15 scats within a 20 foot radius (6 m).


Distinct population segments and the Endangered Species List

The distinct population segment (DPS) is conservation science jargon for a population that is unique and separate from the species as a whole. The term allows conservationists to propose putting part of a species on the Endangered Species List if the species as a whole is to not in danger of extinction. It is a way to preserve biodiversity within a species. The distinct population segment needs to be discrete and significant in order to merit inclusion on the Endangered Species List as an Endangered or Threatened Species. Individual critters or plants that make up a DPS  need to be some how biologically unique from the rest of the species to be considered as such, maybe bigger or smaller, or they may eat different prey, or mate at a different time of year, or have genes that are totally distinct from the rest of the species.

     Sierra Nevada red fox near Sonora Pass, CA (c) 2007 D. Baxter

Last Thursday, the Federal Government published what is called their 12-month findings - the decisions on whether to include a whole host of species on the Endangered Species List. When individuals or organizations think a species is in need of protection and inclusion on the list, they may submit a proposal outlining their reasons and the government has 12-months to respond, weighing the data and opinions presented to them. They must decide whether to list the species as in danger of extinct (Endangered), threatened with Endangerment (Threatened), or not in need of protection. Up for consideration was the Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator). This closest relative of the Cascade red fox inhabits the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades in Oregon and California (Mount Lassen but not Mount Shasta). Based on what is known about this group of mountain foxes,  the Federal Government decided that this subspecies occurs as two DPS's (one if California and one in Oregon), that the California DPS warrants listing but the Oregon DPS does not because several recent detections have occurred in the state. Unfortunately the California DPS listing is Warranted But Precluded. More jargon, to mean that the populations in California are in desperate need of protection under the ESA, as they occur as two tiny populations of less than 45 individuals each, but the federal government is not willing to provide support to fund the steps necessary to bring the fox back from the brink.

This is all interesting news for one like myself who has a strong interest in the preservation of the Cascade red fox in Washington. From what the genetic and photographic data that I have collected on the Cascade red fox suggests, these critters occurs as several small populations in southern Washington and are very limited in distribution in the North Cascades. So the decisions made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service vis a vis the Sierra Nevada red fox are telling for decisions made on behalf of the Cascade red fox. If I have learned anything from this ESA listing process, it is that data is power. Without explicit, compelling information, the government and perhaps the citizenry as well, are unlikely to react. It gives me motivation to continue the research we do on these little studied carnivores.