Snowmobile crossing near Yosemite may accommodate red foxes
Federal officials on Friday said they would move a newly designated snowmobile crossing on the Pacific Crest Trail just north of Yosemite if it interferes with a recently discovered population of Sierra Nevada red foxes in the area.
At least half a dozen Sierra Nevada red foxes, a species once believed to have been nearly wiped out in the 1920s, roam the high-country wilderness just west of Bridgeport, U.S. Forest Service biologists said.
The crossing was designated on Friday. It was chosen to minimize snowmobilers’ exposure to avalanche risk, provide access to Highway 108 near Sonora Pass and provide land managers with an opportunity to shift its location, if necessary, to accommodate the foxes, said Mike Crawley, Bridgeport district ranger for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
“If we happen to find a fox den or foxes nearby whose lives would be affected, we can move the crossing,” Crawley said. “There’s not a huge amount of wiggle room, perhaps a quarter-mile.”
The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 directed the Forest Service to create a motorized winter crossing of the Pacific Crest Trail in accordance with the National Trails System Act. The act states that the crossing will not interfere with wildlife or harm the surrounding landscape.
Until last year, biologists believed the only known population of Vulpes vulpes necator consisted of roughly 20 animals clinging to survival in the Lassen Peak region, about 150 miles to the north.
Several red foxes have been sighted in recent months west of Bridgeport, and DNA analysis of scat collected in the area indicates they may be related, Forest Service biologist Sherri Lisius said. In addition, an adult red fox was struck and killed by a vehicle in January near the intersection of U.S. 395 and California 108.
“We don’t know much about the effects of recreation use on the Sierra Nevada red fox,” Lisius said.
Federal wildlife technicians have installed motion-sensitive cameras throughout the area and continue to follow tracks left in the snow in hopes of finding a den with pups.
The Sierra Nevada red fox lives at high elevations, eating small mammals and birds. It has a reddish head, back and sides; black backs of the ears; black "socks" on its feet; and a white-tipped tail.
-- Louis Sahagun
Photo: Pacific Crest Crossing area north of Yosemite in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Credit: Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest