Swift Fox Reintroduction

Over the last year and a half I’ve been working with the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation to establish a swift fox reintroduction project to the reservation and the region. Fort Belknap Indian Reservation (FBIR) is located in the homeland of the A’aniiih and Nakota tribes. The Reservation was established by the US government in 1888, with 675,147 acres designated for these two tribes. This territory was formerly shared by a host of native wildlife species, some of which are still present today. Swift foxes (Vulpes velox), however, had been extirpated from the region.

Currently, the distribution of this species is split into two populations, separated by a gap of approximately 200 miles. Suitable, unoccupied habitat occurs in this gap. The members of Ft Belknap Indian Community are interested in reintroducing swift foxes both for their cultural significance, and potential to reestablish connectivity between the two disjointed populations.

Before any reintroduction actually takes place there are several steps to assess the feasibility of a reintroduction. There are well established IUCN guidelines for this process. During 2018-19 my colleagues and I worked hard to assess the quality of the habitat and what is needed for a successful reintroduction.  First, we conducted on-ground surveys of predator and prey abundance in the reintroduction area and combined these with region-wide data on landscape features to assess the suitability of habitat in the reintroduction area.

We contracted a conservation planning specialist to conduct a population viability assessment, which provided information on the likelihood of success from varying levels of reintroduction intensity (number of foxes released x number of years). We conducted a literature review of methodological best practices for fox reintroductions. Finally, we presented the results of these research efforts to a group of swift fox experts and relevant stakeholders in a two-day workshop. Following discussion of the research results, we worked with this group to produce the reintroduction plan, goals, and budget.

Now we are ready for the reintroduction. If all goes well we will start the translocations summer 2020. Stayed tuned.