Opinion: Good luck to the Apgar foxes

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | December 2, 2020 12:50 AM

It was an odd year to be in Glacier National Park. Just ask the Apgar foxes. The foxes in years prior have been secretive creatures.

I’d see them once in a while, usually by accident, in the woods that is slowly, but surely, changing from lodgepole pine to spruce, larch, white pine and hemlock.

The encounters were always brief and sometimes met with a bark by the fox. (Foxes bark at people if there’s young nearby.)

A 100 or so years ago this was a big cedar-hemlock forest, but large fires changed all that. The cedars were fried and crews, based on the stumps, cut the valuable wood down.

A former Park Service manager told me he thought the lodgepole pines had been planted. There used to a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp near Apgar, so that makes sense.

Fast forward to today and the lodgepole are succumbing to disease and old age. What surprises me is the number of white pine, a species devastated by blister rust.

The trees are mostly young and plenty still succumb to blister rust, but the ones that survive have grown big enough to throw cones, so the forest is progressing with, what I presume, are trees that are resistant to rust.

This doesn’t have much to do with the foxes, of course, but I thought it was interesting to note some changes I’ve seen over the 20 years of tromping around in there.

Back to the foxes.

The foxes, like I said, have been generally secretive. But then they had a couple of months last spring with no one around — the Park was closed for two months due to coronavirus.

So the foxes set up a den and were merrily catching ground squirrels and feeding their young, running right down the middle of the road with their quarry in their mouths.

Then the Park opened up to visitors and now the foxes were weaving in and out of traffic, with said squirrels.

Knowing full well the driving habits of most Americans, this did not bode well for the foxes.

And soon enough, I no longer saw them.

I figured one, maybe more, had been clocked by a car.

But then snows came and with snows there were tracks, plenty of fox tracks.

Perhaps the Apgar foxes had made out OK after all.

And then the other day I saw one. Like previous encounters, it was a brief one — the fox as quickly as I saw it, disappeared back into the brush.

It was good to see it, if only for a few seconds.