University of Montana Study of Blackfoot Reservation

Swift Fox Revival

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 1995

The swift fox is the smallest of North America’s wild canids, weighing only 4 to 6 pounds, or not much more than an average house cat. Historically, the animal ranged from the northern Great Plains to Texas, but by 1990 it was gone from 90 percent of its historic U.S. territory. In 1994 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that listing the swift fox as endangered was warranted, but the designation was suspended while a conservation team considered recovery strategies. Various state, tribal, and private groups swung into action. Philanthropic efforts to rehabilitate shortgrass and mixed-grass prairies on private land (under the auspices of the Nature Conservancy, American Prairie Foundation, and other nonprofits) added habitat congenial to the foxes. A number of community programs were launched to reintroduce foxes to land where they were absent. For instance, a grant from the Sand County Foundation’s Bradley Fund for the Environment paid for relocation of several hundred foxes from Canada to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. University of Montana research showed the project was a success, and as a direct result the swift fox in Montana was removed as a candidate for threatened status. The cumulative result of these efforts was to allow the little foxes to make a comeback. In the United States, the swift fox has now returned to more than 40 percent of its historic range. In 2001, federal authorities removed the species from consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act.