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Swift Fox Numbers Increase On Fort Belknap Prairie As Reintroduction Program Enters Second Year

Tuesday, twelve swift foxes were reintroduced to the Fort Belknap prairie, the second year in a five-year program.

Officials said that the recent Pine Grove fire had little effect on the reintroduction project, but the COVID-19 pandemic made for a rocky but productive first year of research.

The Fort Belknap reservation has been aggressive in reintroducing species back to their plains in north central Montana. They’re helping reintroduce the blackfooted ferret, are working on bringing the bison back, and are a part of a five-year program to reintroduce the swift fox.

Dana Nelson is a Smithsonian fellow working with Fort Belknap on the swift fox reintroduction project. She says a litter of four swift foxes was born on the Fort Belknap reservation for the first time in 50 years last spring.

“We had some individuals during the breeding season that were traveling upwards of 100 miles a week,” Nelson says. 

Nelson also says that the distance the foxes are moving is a little concerning because they have so many predators. The foxes are only the size of a house cat.

“But another takeaway that I get from that is just highlighting that these animals need a lot of space and they need a lot of intact grassland.” 

The plan was to introduce forty foxes a year for five years. Last year, the Fort Belknap reservation closed down before the program could get their full forty because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the plan is to add those fox numbers to this year's fox numbers.

The foxes this year come from southern Colorado. The rest of the swift foxes this year are scheduled to be released in the coming weeks.

Taylar Stagner is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America Indigenous affairs reporter.

Copyright 2021 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

Taylar Stagner
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