Volunteers set up monitoring stations to learn more about wildlife in the Rockies.
As heavy snows blanketed the ground of Western Montana during the holiday season and into the New Year, the 2016 Wolverine Watchers project kicked off with an enthusiastic “Grrrr!” A small army of volunteer citizen scientists took to the forests and mountains of the Bitterroot Valley once again, joining the Bitterroot National Forest to set up monitoring stations for medium-sized carnivores of the Northern Rockies.
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Searching for wolverines, fishers, martens and lynx is no easy task – these rare, elusive animals are difficult to detect. In fact, that’s exactly why this effort is so important. We need more regional information about presence (or absence), locations and behavior of these animals to know how to best protect them. More than 150 dedicated volunteers make this monitoring effort possible, many of them returning for more after they helped us successfully kick off the project last year. These hearty wildlife enthusiasts include Wildlife Society and Wilderness Association students from the University of Montana, a women’s book club, avid outdoorsman retirees, serious backcountry skiers, tech-savvy contributors willing to sort through photos and data sheets, and aspiring biologists looking to gain invaluable field experience. Ages run from a 7-year-old to those in their 70s, and we appreciate them all!
While coordinating 150 volunteers and supplies for 23 monitoring sites across two mountain ranges is a logistical challenge, it is incredibly rewarding in terms of data collected, and adventurous day trips into the backcountry. This year, Defenders staff and two highly dedicated and trained station helpers were lucky enough to get out with each group and assist with the setup at each of the monitoring sites in the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains. The dedication and enthusiasm of our volunteers is truly inspiring. To gather data, these groups travel to sites that range anywhere from a half mile to 12 miles round-trip, accessed on foot, snowshoes, or skis.
Using non-invasive tools to gather data on multiple wildlife species simultaneously is a pretty cool and effective way to get a detailed look at local wildlife. Monitoring sites are baited with a chunk of wild game meat and combined with a (horribly) aromatic scent lure placed on nearby trees, making the sites irresistible to carnivores. Each site also includes a motion-triggered camera mounted nearby and hair-snagging brushes near the bait that can provide invaluable genetic samples of our targeted species.
With all 23 sites now set up, we’ll be returning to each of them in the coming weeks to resupply the bait, collect hair samples and photos, and see what kind of visitors have stopped by. It’s an exciting time as data starts to roll in! Stay tuned for more updates.
This project is made possible in part by funding from Patagonia’s Environmental Grants Team