Rare red fox found in Sierra Nevada

RENO -- Scientists are hailing the confirmed find of a Sierra Nevada red fox about 90 miles south of Reno, a native sub­species feared extinct in the range since the last verified sighting in 1990.

The fox was photographed Aug. 11 near Sonora Pass on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest by a motion-activated camera set up by U.S. Forest Service employees monitoring the activities of other wildlife.

DNA testing of saliva samples from a chicken-filled sock at the site found the fox is most likely a member of a remnant population of the subspecies in the Sierra, said Ben Sacks, an assistant professor of biology at the University of California, Davis, who conducted the tests.

"This is the most exciting animal discovery we've had in California since the discovery of a wolverine in the Sierra two years ago," Sacks said. "Only this time the unexpected critter turned out to be homegrown, which is truly big news."

Researchers determined the wolverine wandered into the Sierra from Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains.

John Perrine, a biology professor at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, said it was the first confirmed sighting of the fox subspecies (Vulpes vulpes necator) in the Sierra since 1990 near Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. "What's exciting is that it shows there are native mountain red foxes in the Sierra right now, which is something we didn't think were still there," Perrine said.

The DNA testing showed it's unlikely the fox wandered 150 miles south to Sonora Pass from a small population of the subspecies around Lassen Peak in Northern California, Perrine said.