TRUCKEE -- Wildlife biologists are conducting a DNA test to determine if a rare native fox has been spotted at a lake in northern California near the Nevada state line.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say the fox was first reported to them on Oct. 31, and it has since been spotted several times on Donner Lake's north shore in Truckee as recently as Monday.
Wildlife biologist Ben Sacks of the University of California, Davis said a DNA test is needed to determine if it is a nonnative red fox from California's lowlands or a native Sierra Nevada red fox.
Both fox species usually display the same physical characteristics -- notably large, white-tipped tails and black markings behind the ears as well as black legs.
"I was very, very excited to see the photos (of the fox), but I'm apprehensive," Sacks told Truckee's Sierra Sun (http://bit.ly/HGMpJA). "I'm concerned that it could be introduced or a nonnative one. But I'm mostly excited and optimistic."
Sacks sent graduate student Cate Quinn to Donner Lake to collect DNA samples, including hair, scat and a chewed pine cone. The initial DNA testing of the samples should take about a week.
"This would be huge to find out that there's another population that has been here all alone," Quinn said. "I'm holding my breath and waiting to see what happens."
There may be fewer than 50 of the Sierra Nevada red fox in existence around Lassen National Park and Sonora Pass, said David Wright of the Department of Fish and Game.
"If this does prove to be a native, endangered Sierra Nevada red fox, that would be very exciting to us, because we don't have very many of those, and we don't really know of a population in the Tahoe area at all," he told the Sun.
The first confirmed sighting of a Sierra Nevada red fox in the mountain range in two decades came in 2010 when a remote camera captured the image of one near Sonora Pass, about 90 miles south of Reno, Nev. Confirmed sightings of two more of the animals were made later that year around Sonora Pass.
The animal once was abundant through the Sierra and even into the Cascades but was eliminated to the point of near extinction by trapping and poisoning, Wright said.
Information from: Sierra Sun.