Gray Fox on Pelee Island – Earth Rangers project update

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Making homes for Ontario’s rare and elusive gray fox takes lots of work. This year, the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Pelee Island fox squad traveled to the island in the province’s deep south to do some house cleaning.

Unfortunately, what we found were alien invaders! A plant called Amur honeysuckle, which is an invasive (meaning that it does not belong in Ontario) non-native shrub, had infested much of the area that is prime gray fox habitat. So, we rolled down our sleeves – to protect against ticks of course – got out our loppers and hatchets and spent many long days chopping down the honeysuckles.

This is hard work, especially where the shrubs are thick. We often lost sight of each other and had to call back and forth to keep track (it was like playing Marco Polo!), both to make sure that we didn’t get lost and that we were working in the right direction.

While the team was close to a known fox den, the sly species hid from NCC staff. But hopefully, they appreciated the clean-up job.

By getting rid of invasive plants, like honeysuckle and lilac, NCC is encouraging native plants – those that belong here in Ontario – to grow back. One way we help is by collecting seeds from one part of the island and planting them where we’ve removed invasive species or on what were once farm fields. The team spent many days this fall collecting seeds from species like gray-head prairie coneflower, foxglove beardtongue and Canada wild rye.

Grey-headed coneflower, Pelee Island, ON

Once collected, the seeds are set out to dry and de-spider (we accidentally collect a lot of spiders with the seeds). The dried seeds are then picked over to remove the husks and stems. This makes the seeds easier to store and plant.

The seeds were then planted using a broadcast seeder. This machine flings the seed in every direction like a sprinkler – making it easier to cover more ground in less time and to make sure the seeds are spread evenly over the field. Hopefully, next year the field will be filled with wild, native flowers.

You might wonder how cutting down unwanted plants and planting native ones helps the gray fox. Foxes, like most species, are dependent on habitat to survive. Like us, foxes need certain things to make a happy home – food, water and shelter for their babies. By making sure that NCC’s conservation areas have lots of native plants, we’re encouraging other animals – like rabbits, voles and wild turkeys – to come back to the area. These species in turn are food for gray foxes and their young.

It’s important that we keep our natural areas as they were meant to be – wild and native!

So, if you want to be part of an amazing project that will…

  • Help replant old farmer’s fields and wetlands to fill them with the grasses and flowers the Gray Fox needs to survive
  • Remove invasive plant species that are making it harder for the plants the Gray Fox relies on for food (like raspberry bushes) to grow

…then we’ve got just the thing for you! Start your Bring Back the Wild campaign today and join Earth Rangers and the Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC) as we work hard to protect this magnificent mammal!

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