The Sierra Nevada red fox is to be listed as an endangered species following a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday. The slender, bushy-tailed fox is one of the rarest mammals in the U.S., and its population has been threatened since the 1970s. According to the federal wildlife officials, the population of the red foxes has dropped to just 40 in an area stretching from Lake Tahoe to the south of Yosemite National Park in California.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a ruling that the foxes in the part of the Sierra Nevada south of Tahoe are “in danger of extinction throughout all of its range”. While the agency has admitted not having a clear number of the remaining animals, it is estimated that just about 40 are left within their range in California.

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“While the exact number remains unknown and is also subject to change with new births and deaths, it is well below population levels that would provide resiliency, redundancy and representation to the population,” the agency said in a statement.

Several threats have been identified as the main causes of declining numbers for the red foxes. Among them are wildfires, drought and competition in coyotes. They are also threatened due to increased breeding with non-native foxes. Another factor that has affected their population is climate change.

About 20 years ago, some scientists declared the red fox extinct in the Sierra Nevada region; this changed when a small pack resurfaced in 2010. California banned the trapping of red foxes in 1974, a situation that has remained to date.

There have been several attempts to get the Sierra Nevada red foxes recognized as endangered species in the past without success. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government to protect the animals in 2011 and filed a lawsuit in 2013 and 2019. In 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to have the foxes listed as endangered.

The Sierra Nevada red fox is among the 10 North American subspecies of the red fox. With a small dog-like body, this red fox measures just 3.5 feet long and has long, pointed ears and a large tail.

Via The Guardian

Lead image via USFWS Pacific Southwest Region