Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 7, 2020


Jeff Miller, (510) 499-9185,

Sierra Nevada Red Fox Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

SACRAMENTO— In response to a petition and lawsuits from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protecting one of North America’s rarest mammals, the Sierra Nevada red fox, as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

These secretive foxes live in remote, high mountains in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges of California and Oregon, but only the Sierra Nevada population would be protected under today’s proposal.

“Protecting the Sierra Nevada red fox could provide a welcome lifeline for a vanishing emblem of remote Sierra wilderness,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate at the Center. “Let’s give this adorable critter a fighting chance to survive by protecting its habitat from logging and development.”

Only around 70 adult Sierra Nevada red foxes are thought to remain in two locations, Lassen and Sonora Pass. In 2015 one of the rare foxes was spotted in Yosemite National Park for the first time in a century.

Sierra Nevada red fox populations have declined dramatically because of poisoning and trapping, habitat destruction from logging and livestock grazing, and disturbance from off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. Trapping the species is now banned in California. Climate change is projected to dramatically shrink the fox’s habitat as warming pushes it farther up mountain slopes. These foxes are also jeopardized by inbreeding depression due to small population size, hybridization with nonnative red foxes, and competition with coyotes resulting from reduced snowpack levels.

The Center petitioned for protection of the red fox in 2011 and filed lawsuits in 2013 and 2019 to force the Service to decide on the animal’s protection. After today’s proposal, the Service has one year to finalize listing for the fox. The Service is proposing to not designate critical habitat for the fox, claiming that habitat availability does not appear to be a limiting factor and suitable habitat is not threatened with destruction.


Active mostly at night, Sierra Nevada red foxes spend winters in dens in earthen cavities in mature forest, and summer in high meadows, fell fields, talus slopes and shrub lands. Their diet consists of rodents, small mammals, fruit, birds, insects and carrion.

They are born into one of three color phases (red, black or cross) and are distinguishable from other native foxes by their black-backed ears and white-tipped tails. They have particularly thick and deep winter coats and furry toe pads that help them to walk over snow.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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