Iowa Officials Ask Trappers for Help with Gray Fox Research

Iowa wildlife officials have asked trappers to lend a hand with ongoing research into the state’s gray fox population for tracking purposes.

Iowa Officials Ask Trappers for Help with Gray Fox Research

Iowa officials need help figuring out why the gray fox population in the state is declining. Photo:

Iowa trappers who catch a gray fox alive are being asked by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to help with a pilot study on the state’s gray fox population. 

“We’re asking trappers who happen to catch a gray fox alive to contact me or wildlife technician Dave Hoffman directly so we can make arrangements to equip the animal with a neck collar and release it for tracking purposes as part of a new pilot research project,” said Vince Evelsizer, furbearer biologist with the Iowa DNR. 

Officials are offering a $400 incentive to hunters who catch a healthy, alive gray fox and contact officials to participate in the program. Hoffman’s cell number is (641) 425-0737; Evelsizer’s is (641) 231-1522. He said if he or Hoffman were not available, another option is to contact their local wildlife biologist or conservation officer. 

“Our gray fox population is down, and we're concerned,” Evelsizer said. “At this time, the cause for their population decline is unknown. We’re hoping this study will give us some data related to causes of mortality, habitat use, home ranges, etc., that we can begin to learn more about what is going on with this population.” 

The gray fox population in Iowa and other Midwestern states has declined over the past 25 years. In Iowa, the population decline is correlated with increases in the population of coyotes, raccoons and bobcats. Increasing coyote and bobcat populations may affect gray fox populations through competition and predation. Raccoons may impact gray fox populations through the spread of disease, particularly the canine distemper virus. Canine distemper is common in raccoons, and gray fox are highly susceptible to this lethal disease. 

Changes in Iowa’s forest habitat may also contribute to lower gray fox numbers. Mature, even-aged forests don’t support the prey base needed for gray fox. A combination of these factors, as well as potential other unknown factors, may have contributed to their decline. 

Gray foxes can be found statewide, but their core area is eastern and southern Iowa. Preferred habitats included forested areas such as cedar thickets, deciduous forests, the Driftless region, old farms and overgrown pastures. 

Adult gray foxes weigh up to 12 pounds and are smaller than the red fox. Gray foxes have a seasonal diet of birds and rodents, but also eat young grasses in the spring, grasshoppers, crickets, mulberries and raspberries during summer, and wild plums, grapes, apples and pears in autumn. They also are capable of climbing trees, a unique feature for a member of the canine family.


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