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 Consumers Energy employees working on the South Oakland Macomb Network pipeline project were able to help retain the fur coats of two red foxes after noticing that the foxes appeared to be suffering from mange.

Consumers Energy employees working on the South Oakland Macomb Network pipeline project were able to help retain the fur coats of two red foxes after noticing that the foxes appeared to be suffering from mange.

Photo provided by Debra Dodd

Consumers Energy workers save foxes suffering from mange

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published January 20, 2020

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Two red foxes in Shelby Township have regrown their winter fur coats after Consumers Energy employees working on the South Oakland Macomb Network pipeline project took the time to care for the foxes after spotting them in dangerous health.

Consumers Energy employees, who were working on a $200 million pipeline project in Oakland and Macomb counties, noticed that the foxes appeared to be suffering from mange, a skin disease caused by mites that results in fur loss and eventual starvation.

The disease, which affects foxes throughout Michigan, can cause a fox’s eyes to crust over and constant itching, which prevents them from hunting.

The disease typically kills a fox within two to four months of infection.

Red foxes were frequent, curious visitors during the 2019 construction project along the South Oakland Macomb Network.

“There were multiple fox sightings through project construction from May to October between 23 Mile Road and 25 Mile Road,” Debra Dodd, a media relations representative for Consumers Energy, said in an email.

Adam Fisher, a full-time environmental consultant, was one of the workers who took careful steps to care for and help protect the foxes and other animals they encountered, including preserving red fox winter denning habitats during construction and restoration work.

“Pipeline crews are generally pretty tough due to the nature of the work, but they also have tender hearts,” Fisher stated in a press release. “They accepted the red foxes as mascots on this project. Any time someone saw one they let me know. The foxes were curious and often checked up on us, our equipment and even the pipeline itself before it was installed,” he said.

Rich Pulley, the pipeline project manager, said that work was done to protect the den where the foxes lived.

“When the den was located, our pipeline crews made sure it was not disturbed. We also took the extra step of taking some trees/brush that was removed from the ITC Corridor (where much of the pipeline was installed) and carefully placed it in front of the den to help it remain protected,” he said in an email.

Fisher said the team became concerned when two foxes were spotted losing large areas of fur and suffering frightening weight loss.

That’s when the team took action to start a mange treatment program recommended by a Michigan Department of Natural Resources-licensed wildlife rehabilitator. This effort required continuous direct monitoring during feeding attempts to ensure that only the foxes received the medication.

“The medication recommended by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources was placed in a small portion of raw meat and placed near the fox den. We then monitored the area visually and via trail cam to ensure only the foxes received the medication. Two doses were required 10 days apart. We believe two foxes got both doses, as evidenced by the regrowth of fur and fluffy tales (which are very necessary in the winter, as foxes often curl up and wrap their tail across their body for warmth),” said Dodd.

The company put in trail cameras to make sure the foxes received the treatment.

“We were happy to play a role in helping ensure that at least two of these beautiful animals are healthy and warm going into the cold winter months,” Fisher stated.

Pulley said the foxes were the crew’s unofficial mascots of the project.

“Our pipeline crew was happy to call the foxes unofficial mascots of the project and enjoyed seeing them, but respected that they were wild animals. They maintained a respectful distance from these curious animals and made sure that all food/trash was disposed of properly to avoid encouraging them to become overly friendly with humans,” said Pulley.

He said he was “thrilled to have the opportunity to help out animals in need.”

During the project, Consumers Energy project employees also relocated garter snakes, installed a “turtle fence” to prevent protected reptiles from entering work areas, scheduled tree-cutting in winter to avoid harm to bats, and protected an active woodcock nesting area within the pipeline path until the babies fledged.

Dodd said that sharing this story was one of the highlights of her career.

“I am an avid animal lover, and to be able to witness the kind of care and commitment our employees took with these foxes, as well as other animals along the pipeline route (protecting a nesting woodcock, removing amphibians, etc.) made me incredibly proud. Consumers Energy doesn’t just talk about protecting the beautiful environment of our great state, we act on it. We are a company that believes in protecting our environment while meeting the needs of our customers, and this natural gas enhancement project and our commitment to wildlife is a shining example. We demonstrated that it’s more than just a project — it’s about protecting our planet as well,” she said.

As crews work on the remainder of the project, they will be looking out for the foxes to make sure they remain in good health.

“We will be on the lookout for our fox friends. If we do see them, we will again try to administer another regimen of medication to treat possible mange and ensure their continued health,” said Pulley.

The project is planned to be completed by the end of 2022.