Volume 3 • Issue 6 • June 2009

Swift Fox in the OK Panhandle

The Smallest Fox in North America

The swift fox (Vulpes velox) is North America's smallest fox and averages about the size of a large house cat.  This small, nocturnal carnivore is found in the High Plains from western Texas northward to southern Alberta, Canada.  In Oklahoma, the swift fox is found only in the shortgrass prairie region which encompasses the three panhandle counties and adjacent parts of Harper and Ellis counties.  The swift fox is one of the most elusive animals whose population is monitored by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's Wildlife Diversity Program.  Because of its nocturnal behavior, secretive nature and the sparse human population where it occurs, there are very few people who have ever seen a swift fox.

The swift fox has been classified as a species of special concern in Oklahoma since the early 1990s and in 1994, the eleven states within its range formed a multi-state conservation team specifically for this species.  ODWC monitors Oklahoma's swift fox population using a standard technique shared by other states.  This involves conducting timed searches for swift fox tracks on bare surfaces (e.g. road margins, ditches, and the edges of plowed fields) where suitable habitat exists.  Suitable habitat appears to exist in 104 townships in northwestern Oklahoma and swift fox track surveys are conducted in every other township (half of these or 52 townships) on a three-year rotation.

Swift foxes resemble very small coyotes and their tracks are similar in shape to a coyote's but are less than 1/6 their size.  Because of their small size, it is easy to distinguish swift fox tracks from all other carnivores, but they are difficult to distinguish from the small front paw prints of the black-tailed jackrabbit.  To separate the tracks of the two species, positive identifications cannot be based upon single tracks; instead, we look for track lines with 15 or more continuous tracks.

The swift fox is a secretive, seldom seen fox that can be found in western Oklahoma. It is the smallest species of fox in North America
During the past two years, swift fox track surveys have been conducted during the fall in 54 townships in Cimarron, Texas and Beaver counties.  Swift fox tracks have been located in 51 of these townships (94 percent) and at 66 separate locations (multiple sets of tracks in some townships).  The swift fox appears to be widespread in the Panhandle, but there may not be many in each location.  This species is found primarily in locations that are dominated by shortgrass prairie rangeland or locations where rangeland is intermixed with non-irrigated crop fields such as winter wheat. 

In addition to fox tracks, we also record the presence of the tracks of other carnivore species and of jackrabbits.  During the surveys, we have located track lines for coyotes (over 200), striped skunks (28), raccoons (10), badgers (16), red fox (2), and many black-tailed jackrabbits (over 360).

For more information about State Wildlife Grants in Oklahoma log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Written by Mark Howery. Mark is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grant Program. The State Wildlife Grant Program provides federal money to every state and territory for cost-effective conservation aimed at preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. This program is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and continues the long history of cooperation between the federal government and the states for managing and conserving wildlife species. For more information, visit www.teaming.com.

Sandy Sanders Wildlife Management Area

The Rolling Hills of Western Oklahoma

Looking for a wild escape? Then the rolling hills of western Oklahoma on Sandy Sanders Wildlife Management Area are for you.

Sandy Sanders WMA covers 19,100 acres of rolling and rugged terrain in Beckham and Greer Counties along the north side of the Elm Fork of the Red River.

Centrally located between Mangum and Sayre, Sandy Sanders boasts a high variety of vegetation types, thus attracting a high variety of wildlife.

Mesquite, redberry juniper and mixed grasses dominate the area.  All along the Elm Fork, the invasive salt cedar has choked out most every other plant.  Three creeks flow across the WMA.  The creek bottoms are vegetated with taller, denser grasses and scattered trees including cottonwood, hackberry and American elm.

Greater roadrunners can be seen trotting along the hills at Sandy Sanders WMA.
Common habitants of the area include Harris’s sparrow, plains black-headed snake, red-spotted toad, Lapland longspur, ferruginous hawk, black-tailed prairie dog, savannah sparrow, Texas horned lizard, greater roadrunner, lesser earless lizard, Bell’s vireo, prairie rattlesnake, burrowing owl, Chuck-will’s-widow and western massasauga.

Sandy Sanders WMA boasts some of the best hunting in western Oklahoma.  Both bobwhite and blue quail are present, with bobwhite being the most common.  This is also an area of the state where both white-tailed and mule deer are present.  Rio Grande turkey, jackrabbit, mourning dove, coyote, cottontail rabbit, bobcat and raccoon are all somewhat common on Sandy Sanders.

Sitting on the north side of the Elm Fork River, Sandy Sanders offers excellent opportunities for fishing.  Creeks and streams running through the WMA, as well as ponds offer chances to fish for channel catfish and bass.  There are also ten primitive campsites available on the WMA.

For more information about Sandy Sanders WMA, please contact the area biologist Ron Smith at (580) 471-3771 or log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Written by Lesley B. Carson. Lesley is the wildlife diversity information specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Take Your Kids Outside This Summer

See What They Can Teach You

My kids think I am some kind of genius. I can tell the difference between an oak tree and red bud, I know that deer eat acorns and that caterpillars turn into butterflies. I am not only a nature savant (at least in their eyes), I also have some impressive physical prowess. I can climb trees, dig up gopher holes and catch lizards.

It won’t be much longer before they realize that I am not a cross between Aldo Leopold and Tarzan, I am just their goofy dad. But for now I am savoring every moment we can share. An evening spent catching tadpoles. Jolie (four and half years old) spotting a deer before I even see it. Summer (three years old) picking blackberries, but is more interested in picking flowers. Each moment is special in it’s own way – and none were scheduled. These memories just happened because we were outside. We didn’t have to go to Yellowstone or to the beach, we have all the nature the three of us can handle right out our back door.

If you’ve got young kids at home, you need to be getting them outside as early and as often as you can. You’ll be their hero if you take them on a walk in some patch of woods near your home or go play in the creek for an hour. You don’t have to be a great woodsman or expert birdwatcher to introduce a five year old to the outdoors.

Chances are that you spent a bunch of time outside when you were growing up, but kids today are not connected to nature in the same way that you were. Published studies are showing that unstructured, imaginative play is good for kid’s health, both mentally and physically. It is important that you are enthusiastic and deliberate about helping your kids make the same connection with the outdoors that you have.

So go for a walk with your kids today, the memories you will share together will be irreplaceable (even if the memories involve poison ivy).

Written by Micah Holmes. Micah is an information supervisor with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Note:  Don't forget to register to attend a Selman Bat Watch! Registration will be available June 1 at 8 AM.

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.