The Nature Conservancy’s 7,260-acre Cherry Ranch was the site of an August field training for conservation professionals. This Sioux County working ranch was chosen because it is known to be home to an at-risk species in Nebraska - swift foxes.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Nebraska recruited Dr. Teresa Frink from Chadron State College and Greg Schroeder from the National Park Service to lead the sessions, which were designed to give conservation professionals – 22 from the NRCS, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the U.S. Forest Service, and Pheasants Forever – a better idea of what suitable habitat for this at-risk species looks like, and then to how to identify possible swift fox dens (and associated sign) in those areas. (“Sign” means things like tracks, scat, dens, and food remnants.) Jim Luchsinger, the Conservancy’s Sandhills/Northwest Prairies Program Director, was also on hand to talk about the ranch and how it’s managed.
Swift foxes are state-listed in Nebraska for a variety of reasons. They are not as wary as some mammals, and their numbers reduced as a result of long-ago poisoning of the carrion they like to consume. Now they are threatened by coyotes and must constantly seek habitat outside of their ranges.
Swift foxes are the size of a large housecat. They eat small birds, mammals, grasshoppers, and carrion. They don’t bother livestock.
“As a general rule, the landowners we work with want to help. They will take steps to avoid negatively impacting species,” said Ritch Nelson, State Wildlife Biologist for the Nebraska NRCS. “What’s good practice for ranching is also good practice for swift fox habitat. Open grasslands are key.”
Though they didn’t see any foxes on training day, they did see a den and sign.
UNL graduate student Lucia Corral worked at Cherry Ranch last year and set up ten scent stations with camera traps for two weeks. (Most carnivore species are secretive and occur in small numbers, so scent stations – areas with loose dirt or sand on top and animal scent in a hole beneath - are used to lure them in order to observe tracks.)
They saw evidence of swift foxes in six of the ten stations. Here are some of the photos she captured: See a slideshow