Mountain Caribou Initiative: Camera Trapping for Carnivores

Text and photos by David Moskowitz Caribou are not the only animal tough to track down in the Caribou Rainforest ecosystem. As part of our efforts to tell the story of all of the creatures that call these mountains home, I have been setting camera traps this winter in collaboration with Swan Valley Connections in northwestern Montana and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative in the panhandle of Idaho this winter to capture images of some of the rare and elusive carnivores that depend on this wild landscape. Here are a few images from this winter field work and some out-takes of images from the camera traps.

 Anything unusual about this snowmobile packing job? Researchers in Idaho and Montana are using beaver carcasses or deer legs as attractants to lure rare carnivores like Canada lynx and wolverines to bait stations set up with hair snagging devises to collect genetic samples from animals without ever having to see or handle the animals. I’ve been hitching a ride out into the field with researchers and setting up my camera traps adjacent to their bait stations.

Anything unusual about this snowmobile packing job? Researchers in Idaho and Montana are using beaver carcasses or deer legs as attractants to lure rare carnivores like Canada lynx and wolverines to bait stations set up with hair snagging devises to collect genetic samples from animals without ever having to see or handle the animals. I’ve been hitching a ride out into the field with researchers and setting up my camera traps adjacent to their bait stations.

 Cody Dems (left) and Adam Lieberg set a bait station in the Mission Mountains of Montana.

Cody Dems (left) and Adam Lieberg set a bait station in the Mission Mountains of Montana.

 Cody inspecting the fresh trail of a wolverine in Montana.

Cody inspecting the fresh trail of a wolverine in Montana.

Skies and pack ready to go after setting up a camera trap for wolverines and lynx in northwestern Montana.
Skies and pack ready to go after setting up a camera trap for wolverines and lynx in northwestern Montana.
 A Canada lynx enjoys some sunshine in a photo from one of my camera traps in Montana. Got many photos of this fellow in this beautiful subalpine forest. Its been many decades since caribou roamed these forests but lynx continue to call these mountains home.

A Canada lynx enjoys some sunshine in a photo from one of my camera traps in Montana. Got many photos of this fellow in this beautiful subalpine forest. Its been many decades since caribou roamed these forests but lynx continue to call these mountains home.

 A photo bombing snowshoe hare set up in front of another camera in the Selkirk Mountains in Idaho.

A photo bombing snowshoe hare set up in front of another camera in the Selkirk Mountains in Idaho.

 An American marten takes in a snowy night at the same camera trap as the snowshoe hare above.

An American marten takes in a snowy night at the same camera trap as the snowshoe hare above.

Learn more about the Mountain Caribou Initiative here. Stay tuned for the trailer for our forthcoming film which should be out this spring. For updates on the film and other material forthcoming from the project, sign up for quarterly emails on the About page of my website.

Wolf Tracking in the Salmon River Mountains, Idaho

 The landscape, typical of the mountains of central Idaho shows conifer forests, dominated by lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) in various stages of regeneration after naturally occuring fires. Interspersed are large wet and dry meadow systems.

The landscape, typical of the mountains of central Idaho shows conifer forests, dominated by lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) in various stages of regeneration after naturally occuring fires. Interspersed are large wet and dry meadow systems.

 Don Taves inspects the trail of a wolf trotting down a dirt road.

Don Taves inspects the trail of a wolf trotting down a dirt road.

 The right front foot of a large wolf. The toes have splayed widely and the claws of each digit have dug in deeply, including in the reduced inside toe due to the fast speed of this animal. The bounding trail of this wolf was adjacent to the trail of two fleeing mule deer indicating a pursuit (apparently unsuccessful for the wolf).

The right front foot of a large wolf. The toes have splayed widely and the claws of each digit have dug in deeply, including in the reduced inside toe due to the fast speed of this animal. The bounding trail of this wolf was adjacent to the trail of two fleeing mule deer indicating a pursuit (apparently unsuccessful for the wolf).

 A pine marten (Martes americana) peers down from a safe perch.

A pine marten (Martes americana) peers down from a safe perch.

 Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) in flight. Cranes breed and rear young in the vast wet meadow systems of central Idaho.

Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) in flight. Cranes breed and rear young in the vast wet meadow systems of central Idaho.

 Columbian ground squirrels (Spermophilus columbianus) at a burrow.

Columbian ground squirrels (Spermophilus columbianus) at a burrow.

 Rocky mountain elk (Cervus elaphus)

Rocky mountain elk (Cervus elaphus)

 Students in Wilderness Awareness School’s Idaho Wolf Tracking Expedition hiking out across Corduroy meadows at the southern end of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness towards the end of a long day in the field searching for and following wolf tracks and signs.

Students in Wilderness Awareness School’s Idaho Wolf Tracking Expedition hiking out across Corduroy meadows at the southern end of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness towards the end of a long day in the field searching for and following wolf tracks and signs.