Skip booklet index and go to page content

Recovery Strategy for the Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada

Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series, recovery strategy for the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada (January 2008).

Species at Risk Act
Recovery strategy series

Swift fox

January 2008

Swift Fox

January 2008

About the Species at Risk Act recovery strategy series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003 and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened or extirpated species is arrested or reversed, and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species' persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA (Species at Risk Act) spell out both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What's next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry.


Recovery strategy for the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada

January 2008

Recommended citation:

Pruss, S.D., P. Fargey, and A. Moehrenschlager. 2008. Recovery strategy for the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Prepared in consultation with the Canadian Swift Fox Recovery Team. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Parks Canada Agency. vi + 25 pp.

Additional copies:

You can download additional copies from the SARA Public Registry.

Cover illustration Photo Credit:

Photo of a swift fox by C. Moehrenschlager used with permission.

Également disponible en français sous le titre « Programme de rétablissement du renard véloce (Vulpes velox) au Canada ».

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Environment, 2008. All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-0-662-47473-9
Cat. no. En3-4/47-2007E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.


Under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk (1996), the federal, provincial, and territorial governments agreed to work together on legislation, programs, and policies to protect wildlife species at risk throughout Canada. The Species at Risk Act (S.C. 2002, c.29) (SARA) requires that federal competent ministers prepare recovery strategies for listed Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species.

The Minister of the Environment presents this document as the recovery strategy for the swift fox as required under SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the species, as described in the Preface. The Minister invites other jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved in recovering the swift fox to use this recovery strategy as advice to guide their actions. The Minister of the Environment will take steps to ensure that, to the extent possible, Canadians interested in or directly affected by these measures will be consulted.

The goals, objectives and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new findings and revised objectives.

This recovery strategy will be the basis for one or more action plans that will provide further details regarding measures to be taken to support protection and recovery of the swift fox. Success in the recovery of the swift fox depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the actions identified in this strategy. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, all Canadians are invited to join in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the species and of Canadian society as a whole. The Minister of the Environment will report on progress within five years.


Shelley Pruss, Parks Canada Agency
Pat Fargey, Parks Canada Agency
Axel Moehrenschlager, Calgary Zoological Society


Thanks to all the ranchers, farmers, and other land managers who have welcomed swift foxes onto their land. Parks Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Calgary Zoological Society provided funding for the preparation of the Recovery Strategy. Thanks go to all members of the Recovery Team for their important contributions to the plan:

Pat Fargey, Parks Canada Agency
Axel Moehrenschlager, Calgary Zoological Society

Ursula Banasch, Canadian Wildlife Service
Bill Bristol, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration
Lu Carbyn, Emeritus, Canadian Wildlife Service
Elliot Fox, Blood Tribe
Sue McAdam, Saskatchewan Environment
Joel Nicholson, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development
Clio Smeeton, Cochrane Ecological Institute
Peggy Strankman, Canadian Cattleman’s Association
Shelley Pruss, Parks Canada Agency

Strategic environmental assessment statement

In accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals, a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all Species at Risk Act (SARA) recovery strategies. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision making. Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The results of the SEA (Forrestall 2006) are summarized below.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the swift fox (Vulpes velox). In addition, the large number of vulnerable species and the ever shrinking mixed-grass prairie ecosystems they inhabit will benefit from the additional conservation efforts afforded through this recovery strategy. This recovery strategy will also have a positive effect on aboriginal culture by promoting the recovery of the swift fox, thereby returning it to a living part of aboriginal culture. However, there is the potential for negative effects in two situations.

Two potential impacts were identified. First, it was determined that increases in swift fox populations have the potential to adversely affect populations of Sage-Grouse and black-tailed prairie dogs through potentially increased predation. These species are listed under SARA and therefore require recovery planning that will address monitoring, research and any actions that may be necessary to limit the impacts of increases in swift fox populations. In addition, there is a strategy to pursue integrating swift fox recovery into a prairie based conservation plan incorporating all existing prairie species.

Second, it is also possible that plans to alter coyote/red fox density would be proposed as a result of research into optimal coyote/red fox densities for swift fox survival. This could result in a potential negative effect on coyote and red fox populations if a reduction in populations is required. Both the coyote and red fox have abundant and secure populations so alterations to their population densities in specific locations are not likely to put them at risk. However, changes to predator prey relations for other species as a result of such a population alteration should also be taken into consideration. Any potential plans to alter the coyote/red fox density for the benefit of the swift fox should consider all alternatives (could include lethal methods, trapping and relocation, birth control, habitat modification and more). The option that has the least impact on the swift fox, the mixed-grass prairie ecosystem and other species should be chosen.

The SEA concluded that this recovery strategy will have many positive effects and not cause any important negative effects as long as the mitigation measures recommended are implemented, including any further assessments of actions identified as a result of research conducted in this recovery strategy such as any potential culling or species removal from a national park. Further information is presented in the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Recovery Strategy for the Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada.


SARA defines residence as: “a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating” [SARA S2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry.

Swift fox residences are protected from damage or destruction under the SARA. The swift fox recovery team considers dens to be residences.


This Recovery Strategy addresses the recovery of the swift fox. In Canada, this species can be found in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan.

The recovery strategy for the swift fox was developed by the authors for the Parks Canada Agency on behalf of the competent minister (the Minister of the Environment). It was developed in collaboration with a recovery team whose members include representatives from provincial government wildlife and land management agencies, land managers, conservation organizations, industry, academia, Blood Tribe First Nation, Parks Canada, Environment Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Executive summary

  • Swift foxes are found predominately in short- and mixed-grass prairie areas of North America.

  • Swift foxes were previously extirpated from Canada. As of the 2006 census a small population of approximately 647 animals (1,162 animals including Montana) has been established in Alberta and Saskatchewan through reintroductions. Animals are successfully breeding in the wild, although the species is potentially at risk from predation and habitat loss.

  • Major threats to swift foxes include: habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation; predation and competitive exclusion by coyotes (Canis latrans) and red fox (Vulpes vulpes); mortality from vehicles; disease; poisoning and trapping. Climate change and associated habitat changes and range shifts also contribute to an uncertain future for swift foxes.

  • The long-term recovery goal: By 2026, restore a self-sustaining swift fox population of 1000 or more mature, reproducing foxes that does not experience greater than a 30% population reduction in any 10-year period.

  • To assess progress, an additional short-term recovery goal has also been described as follows: Ensure a mature, reproducing population of at least 250 foxes by 2012.

  • Eight objectives have been developed to achieve the short-term goal:
    1. Determine the amount and spatial configuration of habitat required to achieve the short- and long-term population goals.
    2. Quantitatively assess the long-term population viability and then re-assess the long-term recovery goal. Determine if additional swift fox reintroductions are necessary to achieve the long-term recovery goal.
    3. Identify and initiate the securement of swift fox habitat necessary to achieve recovery goals.
    4. Develop research or modelling programs to assess the threats of intraguild competition and climate change.
    5. Ensure that accidental poisoning, trapping, and vehicular collisions do not threaten swift fox recovery.
    6. Raise awareness and support from key stakeholders for swift fox conservation and recovery.
    7. Monitor trends in swift fox abundance and spatial distribution, genetic diversity, and prevalence and distribution of high-risk diseases.
    8. Integrate swift fox recovery efforts into larger, unified conservation planning programs for co-existing prairie species.
  • A comprehensive identification of critical habitat for the swift fox cannot be completed at this time. Although some elements of swift fox habitat have been determined, not enough is known to be able to calculate the exact type, amount, and location of habitat required to recover the species throughout its Canadian range. Nevertheless, results of very recent research will facilitate a partial identification of critical habitat, which will be included in an addendum to the recovery strategy. The recovery strategy addendum will be posted in June 2008. The recovery strategy includes a schedule of studies that outlines the steps necessary to complete a comprehensive identification of critical habitat for inclusion in a draft action plan, which will be ready for review and consultation by Nov 2010.