Kit Foxes Die After Solar Developer Evicts Them From Dens

NextEra Energy began construction last year on the 2.8 square mile Genesis Solar power project in California's Chuckwalla Valley.  The desert habitat was home to kit foxes, a mostly nocturnal animal that feeds on insects and small reptiles. According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), 65 active and inactive kit fox burrow complexes were found on the project site.
This image was captured by a camera trap monitoring a kit fox den on the site of the Genesis Solar power project. Image from the CEC's Monthly Compliance Report for the Genesis Solar power project.
Since construction began, at least seven kit foxes have died of distemper, a canine virus that is spread through bodily fluids, including urine.  The virus is not known to be a prevalent problem for wild kit foxes, and the death of the animals on the project site came as a surprise to wildlife officials.  In an article written by Chris Clarke on KCET, he investigates the possibility that the foxes were infected by the virus after the solar company attempted to haze them from their burrows using urine from coyotes--the foxes' top predator.   Despite the construction activity going on around them, the foxes were reluctant to leave their burrows.  Coyote urine was poured in relatively small amounts near the burrows in an attempt to scare them away. As Mr. Clarke points out, the source of the coyote urine is unknown, and it is entirely possible that the supply is tainted by the virus. 

Construction has been halted on the Genesis Solar power project site, according to the KCET article, until the California Department of Fish and Game determines the cause of the distemper outbreak.  If the virus spreads beyond the area of the solar project, there could be profound impacts  to the kit fox population in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.  I strongly agree with Mr. Clarke's recommendation that the California Department of Fish and Game end its practice of evicting kit foxes form dens using coyote urine.
A kit fox found dead near the Genesis solar power project site after they were evicted from their dens. Image from the CEC Monthly Compliance Report for November 2011.

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