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Recovery Strategy for the Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada (Proposed)

2 Recovery

2.1 Recovery Feasibility

Recovery of swift foxes in Canada is determined to be feasible because the species meets all the four necessary conditions (Environment Canada 2005), as described below.

  1. Are individuals capable of reproduction currently available to improve the population growth rate or population abundance? Yes
    Following swift fox extirpation from Canada by 1938 (Pied Piper 1950), the Canadian population of swift foxes was reintroduced in 1983. By 1997, 942 foxes had been released (Carbyn 1998). These releases have established a small swift fox population in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Montana. Results of a survey conducted in 2005-2006 indicated a three-fold increase in replicated areas of the Canadian swift fox population since the 1996-97 survey with 100% of the Canadian/Montana population being born in the wild. In the eight-year period between these two population estimates, the Alberta/Saskatchewan border subpopulation increased from 192 to 513 individuals, the Grasslands National Park region increased from 87 to 134 individuals while the Montana area is thought to support 515 foxes for a total of 1,162 foxes in the Canadian/Montana area (Moehrenschlager and Moehrenschlager 2006). Additionally, in 2004, 15 swift foxes were reintroduced to Blood tribe lands of southwestern Alberta.

  2. Is sufficient suitable habitat available to support the species or could it be made available through habitat management or restoration? Yes
    The observed growth of the reintroduced swift fox population demonstrates that there is currently sufficient habitat to support swift foxes. Further research must be done to determine how much habitat is needed to achieve the recovery goal and efforts must be maintained to protect and restore this habitat. Strategies are being developed to mitigate the threats of habitat loss and fragmentation that include securement, stewardship, and restoration.

  3. Can significant threats to the species or its habitat be avoided or mitigated through recovery actions? Yes
    Significant threats to the species include loss and degradation of habitat, habitat fragmentation, interaction and competitive exclusion with coyotes and red foxes, direct and indirect mortality, and climate change. These threats can be effectively avoided or mitigated through. (1) the use of management and stewardship actions to protect and improve habitat; (2) education, research and monitoring to support conservation and management decisions, (3) policy changes to minimize/eliminate the use of poisons, and (4) habitat and climate modelling to assess swift fox areas that are at the greatest risk from climate change and adaptive and proactive management to predict and respond to those changes.

  4. Do the necessary recovery techniques exist and are they demonstrated to be effective? Yes
    Techniques needed to ensure recovery of the species are available and include, but are not limited to: captive breeding and release techniques, wild translocations, census methodology (eg. live trapping), and telemetry. Development of a non-invasive census technique, using DNA from scats and hair, is currently underway.

2.2 Recovery Goals and Population Objectives

Long-term recovery goal

By 2027, restore a self-sustaining swift fox population of 1,000 or more mature, reproducing foxes that does not experience greater than a 30% population reduction in any 10-year period.

Short-term recovery goal (5 years)

Ensure a mature reproducing swift fox population size of at least 250 foxes by 2012.

2.3 Recovery Objectives (5-year)

  1. Determine the amount and spatial configuration of habitat required to achieve the short- and long-term population goals.
  2. Quantitatively assess the long-term population viability and then re-assess the long-term recovery goal. Determine if additional swift fox reintroductions are necessary to achieve the long-term recovery goal.
  3. Identify and initiate the securement of swift fox habitat necessary to achieve recovery goals.
  4. Develop research or modelling programs to assess the threats of intraguild competition and potential effects of climate change.
  5. Ensure that accidental poisoning, trapping, and vehicular collisions do not threaten swift fox recovery.
  6. Raise awareness of and support from key stakeholders for swift fox conservation and recovery.
  7. Monitor the following. trends in swift fox abundance and spatial distribution, genetic diversity, and prevalence and distribution of high-risk diseases.
  8. Integrate swift fox recovery efforts into larger, unified conservation planning programs for co-existing prairie species.

2.4 Rationale for Goals and Objectives

Population viability analysis for swift foxes has not been completed, and therefore the current long-term recovery goal (Section 2.2) is based on the COSEWIC (2004) quantitative status assessment criteria for a designation of Threatened status. Meeting this goal may lead to a downlisting by COSEWIC from Endangered to Threatened, however, future research may lead to a refinement of short- and long-term recovery goals (IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria 2001).

The swift fox population has shown a 3-fold population increase since 1996 and may be on its way to recovery. Therefore, the majority of the objectives focus on research and analyses that are needed to determine what, if anything should be done to ensure this species' recovery in Canada. The research and analyses may reveal that minimal interventions, beyond habitat restoration and securement, are needed. If it is determined that further reintroductions are required to reach recovery goals, then a reintroduction action plan will be developed.

The swift fox Recovery Team recognises and is supportive of First Nation interests such as the Blood Tribe (Kainai), which have valid cultural and spiritual reasons for swift fox (Sinopaa) reintroductions. Timelines for moving ahead with reintroductions will depend on the Blood Tribe planning process. Some of this planning can be initiated though a Blood Tribe swift fox workshop that considers both long-term and short-term goals as well as methodologies. The Recovery Team would be pleased to assist with this workshop.

2.5 Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives

Table 2. Steps to Address Threats and Meet Recovery Objectives
PriorityObjective #Performance MeasuresThreats addressedBroad Approach/ StrategyGeneral Steps
Urgent1. Determine the amount and spatial configuration of habitat required to achieve the short- and long-term population goals.
  • Complete. GIS model with associated monitoring on the ground
  • ID of Critical Habitat
Habitat lossResearch/
GIS Modelling
  • see Section 2.6.1: Schedule of studies to identify critical habitat
  • develop a GIS model to determine which habitats are selected by swift foxes on both the broader landscape scale and at the finer home range scale
  • monitor range expansion/contraction in non-census years
  • identify best locations for reintroductions if they are determined to be necessary
  • determine effects of industrial activities on swift fox habitat
Urgent2. Quantitatively assess the long-term population viability and then re-assess the long-term recovery goal.
  • PHVA model completed
  • Parameters/ activites detrimental to swift foxes identified
Habitat lossResearch/
GIS and PHVA Modelling
  • develop a population viability model using demographic, genetic, habitat, and disease parameters to determine the probability of meeting the long-term and short-term recovery goals and used to re-assess goals
  • determine critical parameters affecting population viability
  • determine effects of industrial activities on swift fox population
  • assess whether further reintroductions are required
Urgent3. Identify and initiate the securement of swift fox habitat necessary to achieve recovery goals.Recovery and/or survival habitat identifiedHabitat lossResearch/

4. Develop research or modelling programs to assess:

  • the threats of intraguild competition and
  • climate change.
  • Models and/or research program to assess habitat preferences and optimal densities of the 3 canids
  • Models to assess potential habitat changes resulting from climate change

Intraguild interference

Habitat loss

GIS and Habitat Modelling/
Climate Modelling
  • identify differences in habitat and den site selection between red foxes, coyotes, and swift foxes
  • determine relative coyote and red fox densities that are optimal for the survival and reproduction of swift foxe.
  • identify possible impacts of climate change on current and potential swift fox habitat over the next 25, 50, and 100 years and determine the potential severity and scope of climate threats
  • initiate strategies to cope with climate change (based on above analyses)
Urgent5. Ensure that accidental poisoning, trapping, and vehicular collisions do not threaten swift fox recovery.BMP developed and communicatedDirect mortalityPolicy/
  • develop and effectively communicate best practices
  • contribute to developing policy when possible
  • develop best management practices and/or policy for addressing potential increased insecticide use during grasshopper outbreaks
Necessary6. Raise awareness and support from key stakeholders for swift fox conservation and recovery.Success of public outreach, awareness and education programs initiated by the recovery team and/or other agentsAll threatsEducation and Outreach
  • inform audiences in regions with swift foxes or potential swift fox habitat about swift fox conservation
  • communicate to landowners about stewardship programs
  • complete effective consultation on critical habitat
  • provide timely feedback to landowners on swift fox related research
  • when appropriate, hire from local landowners and communities to assist in research or education activities
  • incorporate swift fox recovery elements in school programmin. and increase awareness of school children regarding prairie conservation issues
  • work with AAFC-PFRA species at risk extension program when possible
Necessary7. Monitor trends in swift fox abundance and spatial distribution, genetic diversity, and prevalence and distribution of high-risk diseases.
  • Replace live-trapping with less invasive techniques for each 5-yr survey
  • Determine disease risks and potential spread
  • Identify genetic composition of swift foxes in the northern prairies (AB, SK, MT)
Habitat loss, direct and indirect mortalityMonitoring and Research
  • improve live-trapping efficacy and develop less-invasive censusing techniques that can eventually augment or replace live-captures as a surveying technique
  • continue the coordinated 5-year International swift fox population survey
  • monitor range expansion/contraction
  • assess the prevalence of canid diseases in swift foxes, their vectors, and potential effects on swift fox survival / reproductive success
  • determine the potential rate and extent of disease spread through the population (given dispersal and gene flow parameters)
  • determine gene flow between Canadian 'subpopulations' and contiguous areas in Montana and identify effective (versus census) population size
Necessary8. Integrate swift fox recovery efforts into larger, unified conservation planning programs for co-existing prairie species and broader prairie conservation issues.
  • Increased level of public support for recovery work on the prairies measured partly by increased stewardship and collaborative forums attended by prairie residents
  • improve stakeholder recognition of the important biodiversity values in the region and develop collaborative forums in which local knowledge can be accessed and local interests incorporated into conservation program delivery
  • provide direction to the Federal Species at Risk Habitat Stewardship Program on swift fox habitat securement and stewardship priorities
  • participate in prairie conservation/endangered species related planning initiatives

2.6 Critical Habitat

Critical habitat cannot be identified for swift foxes at this time because of uncertainty about the ecological definition and location of suitable habitat required to achieve recovery of the species. Swift foxes have large home ranges and it is likely that large areas will need to be maintained as native prairie in an effort to meet the recovery goal. The size and distribution of large home ranges on native prairie need to be better understood and used to inform the critical habitat identification process. While there is already a lot known about swift fox habitat requirements, several knowledge gaps must be filled before critical habitat can be identified. A schedule of studies has been prepared, completion of which should enable the identification of critical habitat in an action plan by July 2011.

2.6.1 Schedule of studies to identify critical habitat

Table 3. Schedule of Studies
ActionCompletion Date
1. Based on current knowledge, determine the functional attributes of swift fox habitat that need to be maintained as part of a cumulative effects assessment of human disturbance that includes the identification of knowledge gaps and future research and monitoring priorities. This would contribute to the development of best management practices and environmental assessment mitigations.July 2007
2. Model species' habitat to estimate habitat suitability/use based on presence/absence live trapping data.July 2007
3. Model species' demographics to estimate population dynamics and risk of extinction concurrent with recovery goal. Combine population and suitable habitat model results in a spatially explicit PHVA (Population Habitat Viability Analysis) (or other means) to estimate the amount and location of habitat required to achieve short- and long-term recovery goals for existing Canadian populations. This analysis will be used to determine if further reintroductions are necessary.January 2008
4. Synthesize current knowledge into a discussion paper (incorporating 1 through 3 above). Discussion Paper will include a biological description of critical habitat including maps of potential critical habitat and will explain how these maps were developed. The discussion paper will also list activities that constitute destruction of critical habitat, communicate what the Federal Policy is on effective protection, and discuss the options available for securing swift fox critical habitat in the different jurisdictions.September 2008
5. Conduct a workshop series with stakeholder representatives in communities proximal to Canadian swift fox habitat or in regions with large amounts of potential swift fox habitat as part of critical habitat consultations. A primary purpose of the consultation workshops is to communicate/discuss/clarify the Discussion Paper on Critical Habitat for swift foxes. Information on the potential socio-economic impacts of various critical habitat designation options would be gathered and strategies for mitigating the socio-economic impacts developed. Where possible, conduct consultation workshops collaboratively, with the Greater-Sage Grouse recovery team, in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness.October 2008 – March 2009
6. Draft an action plan for swift foxes, including the identification of critical habitat. Begin review/consultation process.January 2010
7. Evaluate the potential ecological, social, and economic impacts of critical habitat identification, protection, and management. Develop collaboratively, with the Greater-Sage Grouse recovery team, where possible, to achieve efficiencies. Begin review/consultation process.July 2010
8. All consultation and approvals completed and action plan posted on registry.July 2011

2.7 Effects On Other Species

Please refer to Strategic Environmental Assessment (Forrestall 2006) summary at the beginning of this document.

2.8 Statement on Action Plans

An action plan that includes a delineation of critical habitat will be developed (see Table 3) by July 2011. If it is determined that additional reintroductions are required to reach recovery goals, then a reintroduction action plan will be developed either separately, or, as part of the action plan that delineates critical habitat. The Province of Alberta is also preparing its own swift fox Recovery Action Plan.