Biologists Studying Cascade Fox At Mount Rainier National Park

They're cute, but the Cascade foxes that live in Mount Rainier National Park have developed a bad habit of looking to people for handouts. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The Cascade fox, a rare subspecies of vulpes known to live at Mount Rainier National Park, seems to be growing too accustomed to humans for handouts, and a study is under way to determine just how damaging this behavior is to the foxes.

Some of the foxes, which are known to inhabit just one other location, Mount Adams, have been seen "begging" for handouts on the roads in the Paradise area, according to park officials.

The research project just under way will evaluate the ecological impacts on these foxes as a result of human activities, and will enable park managers to better manage visitor use and protect the foxes, park officials said in a release. The study is a cooperative effort between Mount Rainier and the USGS-Forestry and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center.

Visitors may see radio collars on some foxes. These radio collars automatically collect time and location information via GPS receivers, similar to what is used in a car or on the trails. Programmed to record time and location at 3.5 hour intervals, the collars are expected to provide a wealth of information of how visitor use may alter the natural movements and habits of foxes.

Mount Rainier has had a persistent problem with people continually feeding the foxes, and this project is designed to better evaluate the behavioral responses of the foxes to this illegal and damaging practice, the release said. The substantial ongoing efforts to educate the public and enforce no-feeding laws will continue.

Results of this study will lead researchers to better understand human impacts and develop new ways of protecting the foxes and keeping wildlife wild.

Comments

Doesn't "a study...to determine just how damaging this behavior is to the foxes" have bias built in from the start? This roadside begging has obvious short-term advantages for the foxes, despite their being run over occasionally. And what about the 'damage' foxes have done to other species?

I've spent four decades and thousands of days backcountry skiing around Paradise, where the two seasons are winter and Labor Day. Prior to about 1980, fox sightings were rare and their tracks after a storm were a small fraction of those left by the abundant martins. This situation reversed to the point where it was hard to find martin tracks by 1990 as the fox population exploded. Judging by the tracks, the martins have made a slow comeback since then, but have not reached their pre-1980 abundance.

Though the foxes are capable of travel through soft snow (there's no plowing near Mt. Adams), they prefer to follow the plowed roads and snowshoe/ski tracks made by humans, which give them an energy conservation advantage in winter hunting and scavenging. Martins usually make their own distinct tracks, even burrowing under the snow in search of voles.

Tahoma,

Your comments echo the general ignorance of many (human) visitors to the wilderness.

Roadside begging has no short (or long)-term advantages to the foxes. Eating Doritos is not advantageous to the animals. Nor is conditioning them to associate cars and people with food.

And what 'damage' are you suggesting foxes have perpetrated? Even if the decline in marten populations in MRNP are the result of predation by foxes (and I know of no study which concludes, or even suggests, this is the case), it is not 'damage'. Within nature there is an ebb and flow to the balance of the ecosystem; one species might, for a while, dominate and thrive at the expense of another. To view this as 'damage' is naive.

That said, animals are capable of being instruments of damage as a result of interference by human beings. For example, as a result of receiving handouts from people, animals often come to view the area where the people (handouts) are as their fruitful territory and subsequently become very aggressive toward other animals, to the point of sometimes killing other creatures (and their young) they consider a threat to their handouts.

Now, if the decline in marten population has to do with foxes becoming more aggressive defending what they view as their sustenance source––the roads and parking lots––(and, again, I know of nothing that suggests this is the case), this would qualify as 'damage', but with humans as the perpetrators of the damage, not the foxes.