Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have completed the state’s role in a multi-year partnership to restore the swift fox to its native lands on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana. The Colorado donation effort ended September 15 with the successful translocation of 18 swift foxes from the Pawnee National Grasslands in northern Colorado. In 2021, CPW and the Smithsonian relocated 30 swift foxes from the Lamar area to Fort Belknap.
CPW biologists, volunteers, and Smithsonian scientists set and retrieved dozens of traps over a two-week period. The traps are wire structures using hot dogs or bacon as bait to attract foxes to the area. After capture, the foxes were given a health inspection by CPW veterinarians and fitted with GPS collars before transport to Fort Belknap.
Once the swift foxes arrive in Montana, Smithsonian Institute researchers release them into a pen to better acclimate the foxes to the new environment. After a period of five days, the pen is removed and they can freely roam around their new home. This is known as a “soft release”.
“Colorado has a thriving shortgrass prairie environment to support a healthy swift fox population due to decades of habitat conservation work,” said Wendy Figueroa, CPW biologist. “We are proud our population numbers are strong enough to help the Fort Belknap community restore the swift fox to their lands.”
Montana’s swift fox population is severed between a northern and southern habitat, and the species had not been present on Fort Belknap for more than 50 years. The Smithsonian project to reintroduce the swift fox began in 2020, with the ultimate goal of putting more than 100 swift foxes from Colorado and Wyoming onto reservation land and restoring the ecological connectivity between the two disjunct populations. The project will continue in 2024 in other states.
“Successful furbearer management programs are built on strong partnerships,” said CPW Carnivore and Furbearer Manager Mark Vieira. “CPW invests monumental resources into monitoring swift fox population occupancy and supporting stewardship of shortgrass lands for conservation of all prairie species. It’s the foundational bond between public and private landowners which allows our state’s prairies to support this important species population.”
The swift fox, a nocturnal canid that lives in shortgrass habitat, is a priority conservation species. Between 80-85% of surveyed prairies in Colorado are considered to be occupied by swift foxes and in good condition to support more. The small mammal weighs between three and seven pounds and can reach incredible speeds up to 31 miles per hour.