Jessica and the Swift Fox

Montana is used to having fugitives chased by the authorities in their forests and prairies. But this article is not about some big burly tough guy averting law enforcement; it is about the hunt, for a small elusive fox to find out if they still exist in Eastern Montana, by a demure looking young woman.

Jessica Alexander, who much like Evelyn Cameron ending up taking beautiful pictures of people, landscapes and animals, came to Eastern Montana with the good intentions of chasing the swift fox with her cameras, She is has also been taking pictures of the land, people and the animals to be found around taken by those same cameras she uses in her extensive swift fox research.

On a cloudy, rainy day in early June 2011 Jessica Alexander walked into the Badlands Café and Scoop Shoppe in Terry, Montana with a laptop and some notebooks under her arm. Being very inquisitive, some might call it nosy, I introduced myself and asked what she doing in Terry. Jessica replied she was homeless and came into use our Wi-Fi connection for her laptop.

Jessica then proceeded to tell me she is on a master’s graduate project with Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota to determine the status of the swift fox population in Eastern Montana.

In 1806 Meriwether Lewis described the swift fox in his journal as: “The most beautiful fox that I ever beheld”. The swift fox population in Montana all but disappeared after eating the same strychnine poison being put out to kill coyotes in the early 1900’s. The swift fox was trapped in Canada for their fur and were much in fashion with the ladies in those days. They are scavengers and usually feed on rodents, birds and road kill.

Now it has been put up to Jessica Alexander to gather information, which will be used in the management of the species in Montana, for a study being conducted in cooperation with the between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. A family of swift foxes were replanted at the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and the Blackfeet Tribe reintroduced swift foxes on their lands between 1998-2002.

The swift fox has a light orange hue but was called “yellow fox” by pioneers, who marveled at the animal’s inquisitive nature. It is named for its lightning speed, which can reach nearly 40 miles an hour in a sprint. The swift fox has the unique distinction of being the smallest canine in North America, weighing just 5 pounds, about half that of a red fox, and standing roughly 12 inches tall.

Jessica is trying to catch “Swifty” in the act by placing cameras near their suspected dens and hangouts but so far to no avail. For this article Jessica shared some of the many pictures of other wildlife caught in their natural habitat with her cameras.

The Andy Pehl ranch on 10-Mile Road in Terry, Montana was used as one of the sites after Jessica trailed a red fox to its den and caught some of the denizens curiously peeking at her while she installed her cameras.

Jessica is currently traveling between Miles City and Sidney setting up her cameras in the hopes of catching on camera and proving the swift fox is alive and well and living in Eastern Montana.

About the Author – Bob van der Valk lives in Terry, Montana is a Petroleum Industry Analyst with over 50 years of experience in the petroleum, gasoline and lubricants industry. He has been quoted by the news media and his opinions are also solicited by government entities. You can reach Bob at: or (406) 853-4251

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