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Observer Reliability and Identification of Wildlife Tracks and Signs Half-Day Workshop

January 31, 2014 1–5 pm
Reno, Nevada
Workshop at the Annual Conference of the Western Section of The Wildlife Society
Statement of Purpose:
The identification and interpretation of indirect signs of wildlife (e.g. tracks and scats) is an integral part of wildlife research and monitoring, both visibly as a method of data collection and invisibly in project design and implementation. The value and reliability of wildlife tracking methods carried out by trained observers has been verified in numerous instances (e.g., Elbroch et al. 2011, Stander et al. 1997). However, poor observer reliability is detrimental to research and conservation objectives (e.g. Evans et al. 2009, Janecka et al. 2011, Karanth et al. 2003), and the observer reliability of research participants is more typically assumed rather than tested in conservation work (Elbroch et al. 2011, Evans et al 2009).

Animal tracks and signs are the basis of a host of wildlife survey methods, from track plates and scent stations to pellet counts, browse surveys, and snow tracking transects (Long et al. 2008). This workshop will provide participants an introduction in identifying tracks and signs and present new tools that can used to test observer reliability in the field.

This workshop focuses on two main topics: 1) identifying and interpreting wildlife signs and 2) the CyberTracker Conservation (cybertracker.org) method of assessing observer reliability during field studies. During this workshop, facilitators will demonstrate the observational and analytical process by which tracks and signs can be used to collect reliable data for research. Facilitators will also introduce methods for evaluating observer reliability of track and sign identification which researchers might find helpful in their own projects.

Detailed Description:
This workshop will take place completely in the field at a location near the conference center. Following a method similar to the one used by CyberTracker Conservation to train, evaluate, and certify individuals in wildlife tracking, participants will be asked to identify and interpret actual wildlife tracks and signs discovered in the field. Participants will have an opportunity to gauge and improve their current skill set, as well as engage in discussions after each question aimed at improving observer reliability in identifying and interpreting indirect signs.

Topics will include: field marks for identifying tracks, interpretation of basic wildlife behavior through indirect evidence, animal locomotion and track patterns. The workshop will close with a round-table discussion on the limitations of tracking methods in wildlife research and how best to address issues of observer reliability in research and monitoring reliant upon indirect wildlife signs. Additionally, there will be opportunities for participants to ask questions about specific species and data collection methods pertinent to their projects or interests.
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