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Recent Kit Fox detections at their Northern-most extent in Southeastern Oregon.

The Great Basin Desert of southeastern Oregon defines the northem extent of the distribution of the Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis) (McGrew 1979). The nominal subspecies of Kit Fox in Oregon (V. m. nevadensis) became listed as threatened under the Oregon Endangered Species Act by grandfathering from the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission's earlier informal list dating from 1975 (Dragoo and others 1990; Mercure and others 1993; Hiller 2011). The Oregon Conservation Strategy lists the Kit Fox as a Strategy Species that is difficult to survey due to its small physical size, nocturnal behavior, and low population densities in the Northern Basin and Range Ecoregion in Oregon (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife [ODFW] 2006).

Early reports of Kit Fox in Oregon are based on a few specimens, and generally confined to the Owyhee Valley area in Malheur County; however, it was not believed that this was the only area in southeastern Oregon where Kit Fox occurred (Bailey 1936). Fugate (1939:44) described a swift (kit) fox den southwest of Rome and stated that these foxes were " ... fairly common in the arid section of southern Malheur County, Oregon." Unpublished records include various observations of Kit Fox during the 1930s to early 1970s in the vicinity of Alvord Lake, Burns, Bums Junction, Fields, Rome, and the Trout Creek Mountains, which includes locations widely distributed in Hamey and Malheur counties (ODFW, unpubl, data).

During the 1970s, [greater than or equal to] 1 specimen was observed or collected near Fields in Harney County, Burns Junction and other areas in Malheur County (Olterman and Verts 1972), and as far west as 10 km south of Klamath Falls in Kiamath County (Laughlin and Cooper 1973). During January 1978, an extensive wildlife survey in the Whitehorse Basin of Harney and Malheur counties resulted in observations of only 3 Kit Foxes; surveyors noted that each Kit Fox was unexpectedly found in sand dune systems, and sightings seemed to have become increasingly rare (ODFW, unpubl, data).

Skulls collected in Owyhee River Cave in central Malheur County represented some of the more northerly evidence of Kit Fox presence in Oregon (Benedict and Forbes 1979). Following an apparent lack of documented observations during the 1980s, 3 Kit Fox detection studies were conducted. DeStefano (1990, 1992) prepared a status assessment of the Kit Fox, which included a new survey to determine whether the species had been extirpated from Oregon. This 5-mo survey in southeastern Harney and southwestern Malheur counties during 1990 resulted in the confirmation of [greater than or equal to] 3 individuals, all in Malheur County. During 1991, Keister and Immell (1994) used spotlighting and baited camera sets in the Coyote Lake area between Bums Junction and Fields, resulting in 21 Kit Fox observations. The most recent Kit Fox survey was also conducted in the Coyote Lake area during October 1993 (Keister 1994). During this study, 13 of 128 scent stations were visited by Kit Fox. Records in Humboldt County, Nevada, which borders southeastern Oregon to the south, include 80 Kit Fox legally harvested during 2002-2012 (Nevada Department of Wildlife, unpubl, data).

Because there have been no documented monitoring efforts for Kit Fox during the past 2 decades, we implemented a scent-station survey in southeastern Oregon during summer 2012 and documented visitation using digital cameras. Our objective was to determine if Kit Fox were still present in southeastern Oregon.

Much of southeastern Oregon is in the Western Range and Irrigated Region (56,979 [km.sup.2]), and consists of shrub-steppe vegetation dominated by sagebrush (Artemsia spp.) and Antelope Bitter-brash (Purshia tridentata) (Chappell and others 2001; Natural Resources Conservation Service 2006). Monthly minimum and maximum temperatures were -7.4[degrees]C during January and 30.3[degrees]C during July, respectively; annual precipitation was 23.0 cm, with < 0.7 cm on average for July (Western Regional Climate Center 2012). During our study, mean daily maximum temperature was 33.2[degrees]C (range = 21.7-40.0[degrees]C), mean daily minimum temperature was 11.0[degrees]C (range = 1.718.3-[degrees]C), and there was no precipitation (National Climate Data Center 2013).

Our study area was the Coyote Lake Basin south and west of Burns Junction, Oregon (Fig. 1). We rotated 5 infrared motion-sensing digital cameras among 19 scent-station locations during 12 June--8 August 2012. Our methods were generally consistent with those of DeStefano (1990) and Keister (1994). We constructed each scent-station by digging a small hole in the center of a 1-m raked area (to facilitate track identification). We placed commercial trapping lure (Heck's Catch All or Heck's Loud Fox, Rocky Mountain Fire Works and Fur, Caldwell, ID) as an olfactory attractant on either a plaster of Paris disk or a dried bone fragment and deposited it in the bottom of each hole as a visual attractant. The olfactory and visual attractants were located to obtain optimum digital images used for species identification. We mounted the digital cameras approximately 1 m above ground on wooden posts and angled them downward to reduce triggering from wind-blown vegetation. Due to time constraints, all cameras were placed [less than or equal to] 200 m of main (bladed natural surface) roads. The first 5 locations were selected based on proximity to previous Kit Fox detections described by DeStefano (1990) and Keister (1994). Subsequent locations were spaced approximately 3.2 km from previous stations, depending on topography and site characteristics, to sufficiently assess the study area with a limited number of cameras. We did not attempt to conceal cameras from wildlife, but we did place cameras in areas that minimized detection by the general public traveling on roadways.



We accumulated a total of 266 camera-nights during our survey. Cameras were active at stations for 7 to 33 d, depending on location and availability of personnel to check and move cameras. We recorded 4 confirmed and 2 potential Kit Fox detections (all nocturnal) at 1 scent-station location, confirming the presence of [greater than or equal to] 1 individual (no single image contained >1 individual) (Fig. 2). Two additional images recorded at this same location were potential detections of Kit Fox, but each image lacked sufficient detail for positive identification. Surveys conducted by DeStefano (1990) and Keister (1994) detected Kit Fox in this area during the 1990s. The ability of Kit Fox to detect scent stations may have been affected by daily weather conditions during our study. Our study occurred during the driest and hottest season, whereas studies conducted by DeStefano (1990) and Keister (1994) occurred during fall to spring.

Though beyond the scope of our objectives, cameras recorded presence of other wildlife species, which included Badger (Taxidea taxus), Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), Bobcat (Lynx rufus), Coyote (Canis latrans), kangaroo rat (Dipdomys spp.), Long-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia wislizenii), Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata), Mountain Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttalii), Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), and White-tailed Antelope Squirrel (Ammospermophilus leucurus).

This is the 1st documented occurrence of Kit Fox in Oregon since 1994, a period of 18 y. Kit Foxes in Oregon are listed under the Oregon Endangered Species Act as threatened, but little effort toward their study has occurred since listing. We recommend more extensive survey efforts in the near future to assess characteristics of Kit Fox populations at their northernmost extent in southeastern Oregon (and adjacent areas) where more information is needed to implement conservation efforts. This could include similar studies designed to evaluate habitat-specific detection rates and occupancy over larger spatial extents. Collection of additional data could serve as a baseline for potential landscape-scale land-use changes, such as energy development.

Key words: Great Basin, Kit Fox, southeastern Oregon, Vulpes macrotis

Acknowledgments.--We thank D Vesely, D Smith, and A Whitelaw for providing independent confirmation of Kit Fox detection based on our digital images. We also thank D Immell and D Vesley for comments that improved an early draft of this manuscript. Support for this study came from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.


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Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Malheur District, 3814 Clark Blvd, Ontario, OR 97914 (PJM); Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wildlife Division, 4034 Fairfield Industrial Drive, Salem, OR 97302 (TLH); Submitted 18 September 2012, accepted. Corresponding Editor: Denim Jochimsen.
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Title Annotation:GENERAL NOTES
Author:Milburn, Philip J.; Hiller, Tim L.
Publication:Northwestern Naturalist: A Journal of Vertebrate Biology
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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