Swift Fox Reintroduction and Study
The Big Picture
Like many grassland species, the small and charismatic swift fox has been displaced from approximately 60 percent of its historic range. Today there remains a distribution gap between the population of swift foxes along the Montana-Canada border and that of the core population in Wyoming, South Dakota, and south to New Mexico and Texas. American Prairie Reserve and adjacent tribal lands have played, and continue to play, a critical role in the recovery of the species statewide, offering hope for a future reunification of the two populations.
Project to Date
In 2004 scientists from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Fort Peck Indian Reservation (FPIR) began surveying the Reservation lands to assess the presence of foxes and the suitability of the habitat for swift fox populations. They learned that while a few foxes persisted, no breeding population existed on the Reservation. However, the abundance of den holes, prey, and predators indicated that the habitat was suitable for fox restoration efforts. In collaboration with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MT FWP) and funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tribal Wildlife Grants, 40 swift foxes were reintroduced to Reservation lands in 2006 and 2009. This effort formed the start of a small population of swift foxes on the FPIR, which is an important cultural goal for the Reservation and also important for restoration of the species in Montana. FPIR is currently monitoring 13 swift foxes and has found at least 8 likely natal dens. They are documenting reproduction, mortality, and habitat use and have documented the first third generation fox ever recorded in Montana. A robust population of swift foxes on the FPIR could serve as a stepping-stone connecting the northern and continental populations.
Re-establishing a population of swift foxes on the American Prairie Reserve (APR) could also facilitate range expansion in Montana. In fall 2009, WWF conducted a camera trapping survey to determine swift fox presence or absence in southern Phillips and Valley counties in Montana. Camera traps were employed in 18 randomly selected townships on the APR and adjacent public and private lands. No swift foxes were detected during this survey and it appears they have not yet re-colonized this area of Montana or they are not there in breeding numbers. Additional surveys are warranted to assess swift fox occupancy on APR and surrounding area.
Although the northern swift fox population is increasing and presumably producing dispersers, evidence of any swift fox population in southeastern Montana does not yet exist. Currently, WWF is building a swift fox habitat suitability model for Montana to identify probable areas of swift fox occurrence and areas with high potential for restoration. This model will help direct future swift fox presence/absence surveys on tribal, federal, state, and private lands, including those on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation and lands to its east, and will be instrumental in the reintroduction of swift foxes on the APR.
To learn more about swift fox restoration efforts, please visit:
Map provided by World Wildlife Fund.