Arctic fox dens have room to sprawl in vast intact landscape


By Ron Thiessen

''Honey, where are the kids?''

The arctic fox raises large litters, with an average 11 pups, in dens that can have as many as 100 entrances. In contrast, my modest house has 3 doors and I often have to text my teenage daughter to find her at dinnertime. How does the Arctic Fox manage to find its little ones in these dens of many doors? Considering their superior sense of smell and impeccable hearing that allows them to locate small prey under the snow, they are well equipped to keep track of their offspring. Putting my front yard to shame, den entrances are arctic oases with near triple the vegetation of the surrounding lands as food scraps and fox droppings boost the soil nutrients.

Milky white or pearl grey in winter months and dark brown or blue grey during summer, the Arctic Fox is a master of camouflage. It is equally disguised among ice and snow, scavenging scraps left by polar bears, or hunting for lemmings and goose eggs among the rocks and low growing plants of the summer tundra. A bushy tail, short ears and thick fur (which covers even the undersides of its paws) all allow it to withstand harsh winter conditions throughout its arctic and alpine range.

The Arctic Fox, which can travel hundreds of kilometres in search of food in lean years, is a resident of Manitoba’s Boreal region. While industrial developments and their associated road networks have yet to significantly disturb its territory in Manitoba’s far north, their arrival in arctic fox habitat seems inevitable. Without proper consideration for the fragile arctic ecosystem, industrial developments could negatively impact this delicate web and the many species that depend on it.

Manitoba has a long history of piece-meal developments that failed to consider the long term health of the environment in which we all depend on for essentials such as fresh air, clean water, climate regulation, and wildlife populations. Planning for our future needs to consider all the elements if we are to be successful. A great opportunity to get the ball rolling is to consider the Resource Management Areas (RMAs) that cover much of Manitoba’s north.

The Manitoba government has long overdue commitments to support the leadership of northern communities and work with them to design land use plans for RMAs, many of which are thousands of square kilometers in size. The planning processes could be focused on long-term sustainability with a goal of identifying opportunities to balance economic prosperity and environmental health, including the well-being of people, Artic Fox, and the wide array of wildlife species in the Boreal Region.

Photos by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash