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Allison Plean

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The fox and the bulldozer

Stagecoach residents worried about the fate of local fox dens

— Every morning, Sherry and Fred Schupner watch foxes play from the back deck of their home in Stagecoach. But the encroaching construction of a new housing development threatens their wild friends.

“I’m out there watching them all the time, and I’m afraid they are going to get hurt. I kind of worry about them,” Sherry said. “They disappear during the day when the construction workers come and are out again in the evening after the workers leave.”

As development increases in the Yampa Valley, there’s little question wildlife will continue to be impacted. Colorado Division of Wildlife officers typically are consulted when wildlife habitat will be affected by construction efforts.

“The DOW is not the decision maker, but we do make recommendations and let the planning department know what wildlife species we expect to be impacted,” said Susan Werner, area wildlife manager for the DOW. “They mainly look at wildlife impact overall, and they are sensitive to wildlife issues, but there are more and more people taking up more and more habitat.”

Routt County has a healthy population of red foxes, solitary animals with home ranges that typically cover between five and 10 square miles. When needed, the foxes will excavate new dens, but they prefer using dens already made by other animals.

“They also like to go under buildings, in holes in rock walls or dig a hole in a bank,” Werner said. “The female needs a den for pup delivery and the whole family thing.”

Foxes typically breed in the winter and have a litter of four to five pups in the spring. The pups will stay in the natal den until they are 16 to 20 weeks old.

“If the den is destroyed when the pups are really small, it will probably result in the death of the pups,” Werner said. “If the pups are older and the mom is able to, she will move them to another natural den site or create another one, but that puts obvious stress on her.”

When a den is located on a construction site, the DOW generally recommends delaying moving any earth until the pups start going out and hunting, Werner said. “It’s pretty much a timing thing.”

Routt County planning director Caryn Fox said the plight of the local fox population has not been raised.

“Sage grouse have become a big concern in this area. If they come across a lek — which is a dancing and breeding ground for sage grouse — once identified, we really require that they be avoided,” Fox said.

The Routt County Planning Commission denied a request last year to build a gravel mine in South Routt, and one of the main reasons was because of the presence of sage grouse habitat.

“But generally they can work around it as long as they can identify the area and build a buffer zone,” Fox said.

The Planning Commission’s regulations regarding these matters deal with what they refer to as “critical wildlife habitat.”

“We generally look at wildlife as a whole. When we approve some kind of development, we look for them to mitigate critical wildlife habitat,” Fox said. “Critical wildlife areas are used by wildlife that are critical to the survival of the species and to their breeding and birthing.”

Fox said the planning department works closely with the DOW to protect wildlife as best they can.

But Fred Schupner still worries about the construction site behind his home. Work moves closer to the fox’s den everyday, he said.

“I have not heard about them (planning department) looking at foxes in particular,” Werner said. “But bottom line is that there are some impacts to wildlife with all of this development.”

— To reach Allison Plean, call 871-4204 or e-mail aplean@steamboatpilot.com