Young Cascade red fox in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

This juvenile, black Cascade red fox (also called a silver fox) was detected at a camera station in the southern Goat Rocks Wilderness. Our crews have been surveying a large area of the mountains in southern Washington since late June. We began our summer field season with 6 field biologists setting remote cameras and searching trails they were hiking for mountain fox, wolverine, and coyote scats in the Dark Divide Roadless Area, Goat Rocks, and William O Douglas Wilderness. From these locations, we expanded north, adding 4 crew members, to survey the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and then south to the Indian Heaven Wilderness and Mt Adams.
The Cascade red fox, one of the three subspecies of mountain red fox, is much more likely to produce black and cross phase individuals than the more common red phase typically observed in lowlands red foxes. It is unclear why this occurs but some hypotheses include the red coat color being selected for in the lowlands, perhaps for mating reasons, or the genes that code for red coat color hitch hiking with another gene that is beneficial in the lowlands. The assumption here is that in the mountains, this gene is not as important so all the different variants of the genes occur in approximately equal proportions - each more being equally useful (or useless). Very little research has been conducted on the mountain fox. Any investigation of the differences between mountain and lowland red foxes would be quite interesting and useful to improve our understanding of the conservation requirements of these unique mountain creatures.


A couple of photographs from current stations

Granite Fire in Alpine Lakes Wilderness

2013 has been a relatively small year for forest fires in the Northwest. That being said, two fires are currently raging in our study area - the Granite Fire in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and the Conrad Lake fire on the east side of the Goat Rocks Wilderness. This latter fire is not affecting our camera stations though it is blocking access to some of the trails we search for scats, however one of our camera stations is located in the heart of the Granite Fire and I think it may have burned down. Once the area closures are lifted, we will visit the site and let you know what we see. The photograph above shows Klonaqua lakes with the fire burning downslope.


Den on Mt Rainier

This has been a busy field season and this is a long overdue posting. We have a fabulous group of wildlife biologists working extremely hard on the project and they have been walking trails and setting cameras to collect scat, hair, and photographic detections of Cascade red foxes and wolverines from the Indian Heaven all the way to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Recently, following up on reports from the park service of a mother Cascade red fox and her pup spending time on the north side of Mt Rainier, one of our team, Sean O'Donovan was able to visit the area and locate the den site. He spent many hours observing the foxes and took the photos above. YOu can see that the female is a cross-phase fox and the pup is a black, also called silver, phase fox. From his and an additional visit, we were able to collect quite a few scat and hair samples, which will be sequenced and genotyped in the lab later on to see if there are any additional pups and hopefully who the father is. These data will also help to determine if foxes on Mt Rainier are connected to other populations, such as those in the William O Douglas or Goat Rocks Wildernesses. Look for more information next spring...