MCP: Finding Mountain Caribou in Summer

After 28 days searching for mountain caribou, exploring the places they call home, or have recently disappeared from, here is a summary of some of what I discovered:

Marcus Reynerson making his way across a wet meadow system in the Tonquin Valley, Rocky Mountains. Jasper National Park.

Marcus Reynerson making his way across a wet meadow system in the Tonquin Valley, Rocky Mountains. Jasper National Park.

 

  • If you are in mountain caribou habitat, there is a pretty good chance you are either getting harassed by mosquitos, enduring a cold wet summer storm, or both.
Fresh snow on the summit of a peak in the Columbia mountains after a summer storm.

Fresh snow on the summit of a peak in the Columbia mountains after a summer storm.

 

  • There are a lot of long logging roads in western Canada and if you are going to find mountain caribou, it will likely be all the way at the end of them, where clear cuts give way to the last stands of uncut forest at the tops of mountain valley and along ridge-lines.

 

The end of 88 km (55 miles) of logging roads in the Seymour River watershed. Here avalanche chutes mix with recent clearcuts of inland temperate rainforest and remnant patches of old cedar forests where caribou still linger.

The end of 88 km (55 miles) of logging roads in the Seymour River watershed. Here avalanche chutes mix with recent clearcuts of inland temperate rainforest and remnant patches of old cedar forests where caribou still linger.

  • The threats to mountain caribou are varied across their range and even huge national parks and provincial preserves are not necessarily effective by themselves to protect these animals.
The Tonquin Valley, accessible only by trail, and completely contained within Jasper National Park, is home to the largest remaining concentration of caribou in the park but even here caribou numbers are declining rapidly.

The Tonquin Valley, accessible only by trail, and completely contained within Jasper National Park, is home to the largest remaining concentration of caribou in the park but even here caribou numbers are declining rapidly.

 

  • Climate change is here now.The effects of climate change are readily apparent already in many places where mountain caribou live.
Mount Edith Cavell, a famous peak and glacier in Jasper National Park and area still occupied by caribou. Like mountain environments around the globe, the glaciers in the Canadian Rockies and Columbia mountains are retreating quickly. Most of the glaciers I observed while in the field had no accumulation zone anymore, leaving them as large blocks of ice melting in the warming climate.

Mount Edith Cavell, a famous peak and glacier in Jasper National Park and area still occupied by caribou. Like mountain environments around the globe, the glaciers in the Canadian Rockies and Columbia mountains are retreating quickly. Most of the glaciers I observed while in the field had no accumulation zone anymore, leaving them as large blocks of ice melting in the warming climate.

 

  • Doing nothing is doing something, but perhaps not the something we want to do. Without landscape level conservation measures and ongoing agressive management of caribou and other species of wildlife caribou are ecologically connected to, mountain caribou will likely disappear very soon from much of their current range, as they already have from many places they recently existed. Much of this management is controversial and/or highly invasive to the wildlife and the humans who live, work, and play in caribou habitat including things like culling moose and deer populations, killing entire packs of wolves, landscape scale cessation of logging and or oil and gas mining activity which is the basis of the regional economy, restrictions on winter recreation activities, also an important regional revenue stream.
Moose tracks in the mud in the southern Selkirks. On my first trip to the area in 2009 I found only caribou sign in the area. On this trip all I could find was moose, elk and deer. Burgeoning moose and deer populations across much of the range of mountain caribou have lead to increased predation on caribou from wolves, mountain lions, and other carnivores whose populations are tied to moose and deer.

Moose tracks in the mud in the southern Selkirks. On my first trip to the area in 2009 I found only caribou sign in the area. On this trip all I could find was moose, elk and deer. Burgeoning moose and deer populations across much of the range of mountain caribou have lead to increased predation on caribou from wolves, mountain lions, and other carnivores whose populations are tied to moose and deer.

The survival of mountain caribou is not at all assured across much of their range. In the weeks and months to come I will continue to be researching this topic, planning future trips back to caribou country, collaborating with conservation organizations to help get the word out about this pressing conservation topic. Stay tuned!

The survival of mountain caribou is not at all assured across much of their range. In the weeks and months to come I will continue to be researching this topic, planning future trips back to caribou country, collaborating with conservation organizations to help get the word out about this pressing conservation topic. Stay tuned!

MCP Field Notes: Cariboo Mountains

Looking across the Rocky Mountain Trench at the Hart Mountains from the Cariboo Mountains. The Fraser River oxbows through the trench which divides these two mountain ranges.

Looking across the Rocky Mountain Trench at the Hart Mountains from the Cariboo Mountains. The Fraser River oxbows through the trench which divides these two mountain ranges.

I made my furthest trip north for the project to explore a small corner of the Cariboo Mountains, just south of the town of Prince George, British Columbia. In these mountains and across the Rocky Mountain Trench, in the Hart Ranges, caribou numbers are fairing a bit better than further south. However, with lots of room to spread out in the summer across multiple vast mountain ranges, finding them this time of year proved to be a challenge. During the summer mountain caribou disperse across the subalpine forests of these mountains in order to reduce the chance of being detected by predators. This strategy apparently also works effective for avoiding curious humans as well!

Treeline meadows and ponds where I searched for caribou in the area.

Treeline meadows and ponds where I searched for caribou in the area.

The wet meadow system was miles from the closes road or trail. With huge amounts of inaccessible forested landscapes to spread out in, mountain caribou can seemingly disappear into these mountains.

The wet meadow system was miles from the closes road or trail. With huge amounts of inaccessible forested landscapes to spread out in, mountain caribou can seemingly disappear into these mountains.

A double rainbow at sunrise precedes a violent thunderstorm that rolled across the landscape shortly afterwards.

A double rainbow at sunrise precedes a violent thunderstorm that rolled across the landscape shortly afterwards.

The closest I came to caribou on my excursion–some old scats found while out exploring.

The closest I came to caribou on my excursion–some old scats found while out exploring.

I stumbled upon this little black bear while walking back to my truck at the end of a long day in the field.

I stumbled upon this little black bear while walking back to my truck at the end of a long day in the field.

Mount Sir Alexander, 10,745 ft (3275m) towers above the peaks around it in the Canadian Rockies, across the Rocky Mountain trench from the Cariboo Mountains.

Mount Sir Alexander, 10,745 ft (3275m) towers above the peaks around it in the Canadian Rockies, across the Rocky Mountain trench from the Cariboo Mountains.

MCP: Logging in Mountain Caribou Habitat

A log truck carrying western red cedar logs out of the home range of the Columbia North Caribou herd, past a sign warning motorists to watch out for wildlife on the road.

A log truck carrying western red cedar logs out of the home range of the Columbia North Caribou herd, past a sign warning motorists to watch out for wildlife on the road.

The timber industry has been the backbone of the economy in most of the interior of British Columbia for several generations. Industrial scale logging is also the primary source of the majority of challenges facing Mountain caribou. Because of this, sorting out how to protect caribou habitat while at the same time dealing with the demands of the very powerful timber industry (and modern civilization for that matter) for lumber has been an especially challenging task in attempts to conserve and restore caribou populations.

How well this has been done varies in different locations around the province. A few thing are clear. Mountain caribou depend on low and middle elevation old growth forests for early winter habitat, and high elevation old growth for winter habitat. Clearcuts and early stages of forest regeneration are prime habitat for moose and deer which attract attention from wolves and mountain lions who then prey on caribou more often in landscapes with a large logging footprint in them. Logging roads become access routes for humans on snowmobile in the winter to areas that are sensitive for caribou who are easily displaced by human recreation activities in the winter. A large amount of habitat has been set aside for mountain caribou which has curtailed logging in some areas and road use restrictions have been put in place as well. However, logging of both old growth and second growth forests continue in mountain caribou habitat in some places.

Lumber yard in Revelstoke, British Columbia. The logging industry is a primary employer in much of the region.

Lumber yard in Revelstoke, British Columbia. The logging industry is a primary employer in much of the region.

Mill worker on his way to work at the lumber mill in Revelstoke, British Columbia, a town where both timber and tourism are major and at times competing components of the economy. Mountain caribou conservation has put stresses on both in terms of restrictions on logging as well as the heliski and snowmobile recreation which are big business in the area.

Mill worker on his way to work at the lumber mill in Revelstoke, British Columbia, a town where both timber and tourism are major and at times competing components of the economy. Mountain caribou conservation has put stresses on both in terms of restrictions on logging as well as the heliski and snowmobile recreation which are big business in the area.

British Columbia is the last place in the Pacific Northwest with significant stands of old growth forest still slatted for logging, both on the coast and in the interior. Conservation groups have used caribou protection as a tool to curtail logging in these ancient forests, much the spotted owl was used in the United States several decades ago—imperfectly in both cases. With caribou populations continueing to decline in much of their range logging interests have started looking at having these restrictions lifted once the caribou disappear from an area while conservation groups are looking at what might be the next lever for protecting whats left of this unique inland temperate rainforest.

A recently logged second growth forest in the Seymour River watershed. Industrial scale logging which employs large machinery to cut and remove logs often leaves a devastated appearing landscape behind, including lots of wood cut and left on the ground, to expensive to transport out for the value of what can be made from it.

A recently logged second growth forest in the Seymour River watershed. Industrial scale logging which employs large machinery to cut and remove logs often leaves a devastated appearing landscape behind, including lots of wood cut and left on the ground, to expensive to transport out for the value of what can be made from it.

The likely destination of the logs cut in the landscape above. Stacked lumber with floating logs beyond them close to Salmon Arm, British Columbia

The likely destination of the logs cut in the landscape above. Stacked lumber with floating logs beyond them close to Salmon Arm, British Columbia

Kim Shelton takes in the grandeur of a remnant stand of old growth western red cedar close to Trout Lake British Columbia. How we as a society place value on forests and trees such as these is highly varied. Whether places such as this, and the animals such as mountain caribou whom depend on them, will continue to exist in any significant quantity for future generations to argue about seems tenuous at the moment.

Kim Shelton takes in the grandeur of a remnant stand of old growth western red cedar close to Trout Lake British Columbia. How we as a society place value on forests and trees such as these is highly varied. Whether places such as this, and the animals such as mountain caribou whom depend on them, will continue to exist in any significant quantity for future generations to argue about seems tenuous at the moment.

MCP Field Notes: North Columbia Herd.

Looking out across the section of the Columbia Mountains I explored within the home range of the North Columbia Caribou herd.

Looking out across the section of the Columbia Mountains I explored within the home range of the North Columbia Caribou herd.

The town of Revelstoke, British Columbia sits on the banks of the Columbia River. North of town, on both banks of the reservoir created by the impounded Columbia lives the North Columbia caribou herd. This herd has been fairing better in the past several years than many of the herds further south. The reasons for this appear to include a collection of issues including habitat protections, limits on recreational impacts from snowmobiling and helicopter ski opporations and a drastic reduction in moose populations (through human hunting) which has lead to a natural decline in wolf populations and in turn less pressure on caribou. This herd has also been the focus of a program to pen some of the herd's pregnant females during the spring and early summer. The females and their calves which were born in the protection of the pen are released in the midsummer where they rejoin the rest of the caribou in the wild. This project is in its second year (Learn more about it at Revelstoke Caribou Rearing in the Wild). I spent three days in the heart of their range for this herd in the mountains northwest of Revelstoke.

Numerous sets of fresh caribou tracks in the area told me I was in the right spot. Pictured is the hind foot of a bull caribou. Caribou are the only native North American hoofed mammal to regularly show dewclaws (the marks behind the main cleaves, feral pigs found in many places, though none in caribou habitat, also often register their dewclaws), though they show up more regularly in the fronts than hinds.

Numerous sets of fresh caribou tracks in the area told me I was in the right spot. Pictured is the hind foot of a bull caribou. Caribou are the only native North American hoofed mammal to regularly show dewclaws (the marks behind the main cleaves, feral pigs found in many places, though none in caribou habitat, also often register their dewclaws), though they show up more regularly in the fronts than hinds.

Early one morning, close to first light, I caught my first glimpse of a mountain caribou, a bull with antlers in velvet. Female caribou also have antlers, though smaller than the males, another unique feature of this species.

Early one morning, close to first light, I caught my first glimpse of a mountain caribou, a bull with antlers in velvet. Female caribou also have antlers, though smaller than the males, another unique feature of this species.

The subalpine landscape that caribou appear to prefer is one made of dense forests and wet meadows. This is a species that is definitely NOT afraid to get its feet wet.

The subalpine landscape that caribou appear to prefer is one made of dense forests and wet meadows. This is a species that is definitely NOT afraid to get its feet wet.

The older tracks of a grizzly bear warned me that these creatures might be in the area. I spotted a mom and cub in the morning twilight on the day after I spotted the caribou. They didn’t spot me as they crossed an opening in the forest but also didn’t linger long enough for me to capture a photo of them. Though intrigued, I choose not to follow them to see if I might get another chance to see them. A little ways on I discovered the fresh tracks of a bull moose and calf heading into the same section of forest. An interesting story might have unfolded between these mothers and children of two of North America’s most ornery large mammals. I left this one as another one of the many mysteries that these dark forests hold.

The older tracks of a grizzly bear warned me that these creatures might be in the area. I spotted a mom and cub in the morning twilight on the day after I spotted the caribou. They didn’t spot me as they crossed an opening in the forest but also didn’t linger long enough for me to capture a photo of them. Though intrigued, I choose not to follow them to see if I might get another chance to see them. A little ways on I discovered the fresh tracks of a bull moose and calf heading into the same section of forest. An interesting story might have unfolded between these mothers and children of two of North America’s most ornery large mammals. I left this one as another one of the many mysteries that these dark forests hold.

The mosquitos and black flies were atrocious.

Mountain Caribou Project: The Adventure Begins

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Tomorrow I embark on a month of travels through the interior of British Columbia to learn about and photograph the world of mountain caribou. The mountain caribou of British Columbia, Washington, and Idaho are one of the most southern herd of caribou found anywhere on earth and their continued existence is threatened by a myriad of conservation challenges. Follow along here and on my instagram feed to learn more about these beautiful and endangered throwbacks to the Pleistocene. Over the course of the month, besides exploring and photographing in caribou country, I will also be meeting with people involved in caribou conservation and scouting for future trips to the region to fully capture the story of mountain caribou and the wild lands they call home.  Below are a few photos of mine from past trips to mountain caribou country. Many more to follow!

Caribou country in northeastern Washington’s Selkirk mountains.

Caribou country in northeastern Washington’s Selkirk mountains.

Tracks of one of the members of the South Selkirks herd which travel back and forth across the USA-Canada border.

Tracks of one of the members of the South Selkirks herd which travel back and forth across the USA-Canada border.

Caribou trail in the Selkirk mountains of southern British Columbia.

Caribou trail in the Selkirk mountains of southern British Columbia.

Grizzly bear tracks just north of the Washington-British Columbia border. Grizzly bears are also a sensitive species in much of this region. Over the next month I will be exploring and documenting the ecology of caribou and how they interact with the mountains they call home, the other wildlife they share the landscape with, and the people that live, work, and play in caribou country.

Grizzly bear tracks just north of the Washington-British Columbia border. Grizzly bears are also a sensitive species in much of this region. Over the next month I will be exploring and documenting the ecology of caribou and how they interact with the mountains they call home, the other wildlife they share the landscape with, and the people that live, work, and play in caribou country.

Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. Mountain caribou populations are being closely monitored in even large wilderness landscapes such as in the Canadian Rockies.

Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. Mountain caribou populations are being closely monitored in even large wilderness landscapes such as in the Canadian Rockies.

Study Up! Learn more about mountain caribou here:

To learn more about the life history and conservation challenges of mountain caribou check out these websites as well:

Time Lapse: 1,200 miles in the tracks of a lone wolf

With over half a year gone by since we completed the OR7 Expedition, our team has been busy working on the educational products which were a key motivator to take on the expedition to begin with. We have been delivering slideshows up and down the west coast and abroad (for a list of upcoming events I am speaking at click here, and for a complete list of all events by all our team members click here).

Reflections on the journey

The fact that OR7 found a mate and has produced a litter of pups in southwestern Oregon, well over 200 miles from the closest know breeding population of wolves demonstrates the amazing capacity for wolves to reestablish themselves in areas they have been absent from for decades. It also speaks to the excellent habitat condition for wolves which currently exist across much of the west including large sections of northern California. As has been made clear, in studies from around the globe, that large terrestrial carnivores play important roles ecologically in the natural systems they inhabit--especially in concert with each other. The re-establishment of wolves in parts of California, alongside the existing recovered populations of mountain lions and black bears in the state, would be a very real step forward towards creating more diverse, resilient, and self-regulating wildlife populations and biological communities in parts of California where humans have significantly altered the landscape through removal of some species and heavy management of others.

Wildlife and wild land conservation in the 21st century

The world is a very different place now than it was in the early 1900's when the last wolves were being extirpated from the west coast. Human populations have shifted away from rural areas towards urban centers. Even in the last 50 years, since our society adopted the concept of protecting wild landscapes in the form of Wilderness, the world has shifted greatly. OR7 shows the scale at which we need to think about conservation and co-existance. Wolves speak to the very real limitations of Wilderness preservation. As we have begun to understand how interconnected ecological processes are we have learned about the vulnerability and ineffectiveness of islands of protected Wilderness. Conservation in the 21st century must look at protecting and restoring broad connected landscapes. With such a broad perspective on the types of lands that need to be incorporated into conservation planning, its impossible to consider removing human uses from all these areas. Because of this, modern conservation needs to take a hard look at the human-nature dichotomy which was enshrined in the Wilderness Act and move towards an appreciation that humans and human uses are part of the natural world. Rather than isolation of our impacts from nature and maintaining space for wild things like wolves in places far from where most people live, the way forward must be one of intermingled uses. A modern wolf like OR7 has learned to deal with a landscape covered with roads, high speed traffic, industrial scale agriculture and forestry. Similarly modern humans need to learn how to share the landscape once again with large carnivores, wild rivers, unmanaged forests, and landscapes with both the capacity to feed us, and preserve the diversity of life on which we as a species ultimately depend.

Expedition Time Lapse Video

Here is a time lapse of the entire Wolf OR7 Expedition created by my team member Jay Simpson and set to an original poem of another team member Galeo Saintz. Enjoy!

OR7 Expedition: Mission Accomplished!

Mission Accomplished!

Just a few days ago I my team and I stepped off the trail, at the end of over a month of biking and hiking at the southern end of wolf OR7's current home range. Over the weeks prior we traversed over 1000 miles on foot and bike, retracing the route this wolf took dispersing from where it was born in the Wallawa mountains of northeastern Oregon to northern California and back up into southwestern Oregon. Along the way we met numerous fascinating people whom live, work, and play in the landscapes OR7 traversed, observed bountiful wildlife, slept out under the stars and tried to experience the lands we passed through as the wolf might have.

Sunrise over the Zumwalt Prairie in Wallawa County Oregon, part of the home range of OR7's natal pack.
Sunrise over the Zumwalt Prairie in Wallawa County Oregon, part of the home range of OR7's natal pack.
Huricanne creek and Sacajawea Peak in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallawa Mountains, Oregon.
Huricanne creek and Sacajawea Peak in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallawa Mountains, Oregon.
Crossing the upper Imnaha river on a log jam in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon.
Crossing the upper Imnaha river on a log jam in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon.
Tracks of a lone wolf in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon.
Tracks of a lone wolf in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon.
Galeo Saintz pedels towards the sunset on a quite road in northeastern Oregon.
Galeo Saintz pedels towards the sunset on a quite road in northeastern Oregon.
Rachael and Jay rolling through the pine forests of northern California.
Rachael and Jay rolling through the pine forests of northern California.
Stars over Mount Mcloughlin, in the southern Oregon Cascades.
Stars over Mount Mcloughlin, in the southern Oregon Cascades.
Sunrise on Mount Shasta.
Sunrise on Mount Shasta.
Jay Simpson nears to top of a pass in the Oregon Cascades.
Jay Simpson nears to top of a pass in the Oregon Cascades.
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Sunrise over Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
Sunrise over Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.
lava flow in Modoc National forest, California.
lava flow in Modoc National forest, California.
Stars fill the night sky in sparsely populated northeastern Oregon.
Stars fill the night sky in sparsely populated northeastern Oregon.
The expedition crew a few days before the end of the route.

The expedition crew a few days before the end of the route.

More Stories to Come!

With the expedition complete the team is now turning its attention to production of a wide variety of educational materials to help share the stories from our trip and create a forum for community dialogue around coexistence with large carnivores. Read more about the details of our trip and forthcoming materials at or7expedition.org.

Thanks to our many supporters, and sponsors including Xplore and Sculpt the Future Foundation. Learn about all the many people and organizations that helped make this expedition a success here.

Big Cats, Big Roads, and Beachfront: Out and About with the Santa Cruz Puma Project

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In February I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in the field with the Santa Cruz Puma Project, an ongoing research program based out of University of California Santa Cruz. Along with learning about the general biology and ecology of mountain lions, researchers and graduate students are looking specifically at how these large cats interact with human populations, neighborhoods, and roads.

The San Francisco Bay area is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States but still includes a matrix of open spaces and wild lands that mountain lions have managed to carve out an existence in.

The San Francisco Bay area is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States but still includes a matrix of open spaces and wild lands that mountain lions have managed to carve out an existence in.

The primary study area for the project is the Santa Cruz mountains which run south from San Francisco. Plant communities range from redwood forests to arid chaparral and oak woodlands.

The primary study area for the project is the Santa Cruz mountains which run south from San Francisco. Plant communities range from redwood forests to arid chaparral and oak woodlands.

On the eastern edge of the Santa Cruz mountains, residential areas intermix with parklands and forested mountains creating a fragmented landscape that mountain lions travel through carefully.

On the eastern edge of the Santa Cruz mountains, residential areas intermix with parklands and forested mountains creating a fragmented landscape that mountain lions travel through carefully.

In order to get detailed information on the movements of mountain lions, the project live captures mountain lions and attaches a GPS collar to them.

In order to get detailed information on the movements of mountain lions, the project live captures mountain lions and attaches a GPS collar to them.

Hounds are used to track the cat which typically climb a tree to evade the dogs. Researchers can anesthetize the mountain lion, give it a physical exam and secure a radio collar to the cat. Here roundsman Dan Tichenor  has just released one of his hounds on the fresh trail of a mountain lion.

Hounds are used to track the cat which typically climb a tree to evade the dogs. Researchers can anesthetize the mountain lion, give it a physical exam and secure a radio collar to the cat. Here roundsman Dan Tichenor  has just released one of his hounds on the fresh trail of a mountain lion.

Treed mountain lion in a Pacific madrone tree.

Treed mountain lion in a Pacific madrone tree.

Besides a GPS unit, the collars also include a radio signal transmitter which researchers can use to get close enough to the cat to wirelessly download data from the collar. Other collars have a transmitter which allows GPS data to be transmitted via cell service. All of the lions in the project with these collars are currently on a family plan I was told (seriously!). Here wildlife biologist Paul Houghtaling is attempting to locate a collared cat in a large stand of redwood trees.

Besides a GPS unit, the collars also include a radio signal transmitter which researchers can use to get close enough to the cat to wirelessly download data from the collar. Other collars have a transmitter which allows GPS data to be transmitted via cell service. All of the lions in the project with these collars are currently on a family plan I was told (seriously!). Here wildlife biologist Paul Houghtaling is attempting to locate a collared cat in a large stand of redwood trees.

Once the data has been collected from the collar’s the detailed geographic information collected can be used to address a wide variety of research questions.

Once the data has been collected from the collar’s the detailed geographic information collected can be used to address a wide variety of research questions.

One big question that the project is studying is about the diet of mountain lions and specifically where on the landscape they are hunting in relationship to various habitat types and levels of human presence on the landscape. Here field technician Chris Fust has used information from a collared cat to discover the remains of a deer killed by the mountain lion.

One big question that the project is studying is about the diet of mountain lions and specifically where on the landscape they are hunting in relationship to various habitat types and levels of human presence on the landscape. Here field technician Chris Fust has used information from a collared cat to discover the remains of a deer killed by the mountain lion.

Another topic of great interest to the project and numerous other conservationists in the area are the effects of roads and highways on mountain lions ability to move around the region. I spent a day out in the field with Tanya Diamond (pictured here) and Ahiga Snyder from  Pathways For Wildlife  whom are studying wildlife crossings of numerous roads in the region.

Another topic of great interest to the project and numerous other conservationists in the area are the effects of roads and highways on mountain lions ability to move around the region. I spent a day out in the field with Tanya Diamond (pictured here) and Ahiga Snyder from Pathways For Wildlife whom are studying wildlife crossings of numerous roads in the region.

Researcher Ahiga Snyder servicing a remote camera at a break in a fence adjacent to Highway 1 which wildlife have been using to access the roadway.

Researcher Ahiga Snyder servicing a remote camera at a break in a fence adjacent to Highway 1 which wildlife have been using to access the roadway.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from Wilder State Park just north of Santa Cruz California. Stunning natural beauty has drawn hundreds of thousands of people to the San Francisco Bay area for decades creating the current challenges the region is facing to conserve local wild lands and wildlife but also a human population deeply invested in the outcome.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from Wilder State Park just north of Santa Cruz California. Stunning natural beauty has drawn hundreds of thousands of people to the San Francisco Bay area for decades creating the current challenges the region is facing to conserve local wild lands and wildlife but also a human population deeply invested in the outcome.

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Wildlife In the Methow Valley, Viewed Remotely

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This winter I have been running remote cameras of mine, and assisting the Ray Robertson and the United States Forest Service with the deployment of several others in various locations around the Methow Valley here in north central Washington. Remote cameras are considered a non-invasive research method, as they provide a means to monitor wildlife without having to handle or even directly observe them. Remote cameras greatly increases the amount of time we can monitor a location and also reduces our impact on the species we are studying by limiting the amount of time we are actually in the field in their habitat. Remote cameras, if set thoughtfully can also provide beautiful images that both document various species of wildlife while also illustrating their relationship to their environment and each other. Here is some of what we have been finding this winter here on the eastern slope of the North Cascades.

 

Mule deer, such as these two are one of the most conspicuous species of wildlife in the Methow Valley and show up in camera sets in many low elevation camera traps around the valley.

Mule deer, such as these two are one of the most conspicuous species of wildlife in the Methow Valley and show up in camera sets in many low elevation camera traps around the valley.

A young mountain lion explores the same location where the deer from the previous image had visited earlier. Other images from this camera captured both this lion and its mother in the same location.

A young mountain lion explores the same location where the deer from the previous image had visited earlier. Other images from this camera captured both this lion and its mother in the same location.

An adult mountain lion sniffs at the buried remains of a deer which had been cached about a week before by either himself or possibly another lion that uses this area. After inspecting the area briefly, this lion moved on without retrieving anything of the buried carcass.

An adult mountain lion sniffs at the buried remains of a deer which had been cached about a week before by either himself or possibly another lion that uses this area. After inspecting the area briefly, this lion moved on without retrieving anything of the buried carcass.

Golden eagle and black-billed magpie feeding on the remains of this same carcass which had been excavated by a bobcat several days earlier. In this image I had the camera looking down on the sight from an overhanging tree branch.

Golden eagle and black-billed magpie feeding on the remains of this same carcass which had been excavated by a bobcat several days earlier. In this image I had the camera looking down on the sight from an overhanging tree branch.

A group of river otters bounds along the banks of the Methow River. I set this camera at a location where I had found sign of a number of species of wildlife and the set also captured images of mountain lion, deer and beaver.

A group of river otters bounds along the banks of the Methow River. I set this camera at a location where I had found sign of a number of species of wildlife and the set also captured images of mountain lion, deer and beaver.

A photo of myself. As part of setting a camera trap I will trigger the camera and then inspect the images it is capturing to make sure the focal area of the camera is capturing the area I am interested in. Behind me is the remains of a mule deer that had been killed and consumed by wolves several weeks earlier. Here I am using the carcass as an attractant to draw carnivores into the range of the camera.

A photo of myself. As part of setting a camera trap I will trigger the camera and then inspect the images it is capturing to make sure the focal area of the camera is capturing the area I am interested in. Behind me is the remains of a mule deer that had been killed and consumed by wolves several weeks earlier. Here I am using the carcass as an attractant to draw carnivores into the range of the camera.

A pair of coyotes inspecting the carcass. They scent marked the area and then left without scavenging on the carcass.

A pair of coyotes inspecting the carcass. They scent marked the area and then left without scavenging on the carcass.

This bobcat was more interested in getting a meal out of the deer carcass!

This bobcat was more interested in getting a meal out of the deer carcass!

Even after many other visitors, a hungry wolf returned to the carcass to feed on the bones and hide that remained.   

Even after many other visitors, a hungry wolf returned to the carcass to feed on the bones and hide that remained.

 

A mule deer buck captured on a Forest Service camera set by Ray Robertson and I in a location we had found tracks of wolves.   

A mule deer buck captured on a Forest Service camera set by Ray Robertson and I in a location we had found tracks of wolves.

 

A daytime image from the same camera. The short ears and stocky muzzle of this animal identify it as a wolf.

A daytime image from the same camera. The short ears and stocky muzzle of this animal identify it as a wolf.

Several weeks later, this coyote was captured at the same location, identified by its more slender build and narrow snout.

Several weeks later, this coyote was captured at the same location, identified by its more slender build and narrow snout.

Remote camera set targeting wolves and mountain lions along a game trail. For this camera set I am anticipating the travel route of these species through my interpretation of their tracks and knowledge of how they typically travel through this particular location. I expect that I will also get photos of mule deer, and coyotes as well as possibly bobcats and red squirrels. Will keep you posted on how this one turns out…its out there right now!

Remote camera set targeting wolves and mountain lions along a game trail. For this camera set I am anticipating the travel route of these species through my interpretation of their tracks and knowledge of how they typically travel through this particular location. I expect that I will also get photos of mule deer, and coyotes as well as possibly bobcats and red squirrels. Will keep you posted on how this one turns out…its out there right now!

Productive remote camera traps aren't just created by sticking a camera up just anywhere in the woods. It requires careful observation of tracks and signs, knowledge of the target species biology and ecology, how to use natural and imported attractants, as well as specific tricks on how to get the most out of the equipment you are using in the field. Click here to learn more about remote cameras and other non-invasive wildlife research methods. David Moskowitz provides custom trainings on many of these methods and consulting services for projects looking to employ them effectively and efficiently in the field.

Wildlife Tracking Certifications In Europe

This fall Casey McFarland, Mark Elbroch and myself delivered wildlife tracking workshops and certifications in the United Kingdom, Slovakia, Germany and the Netherlands.

Casey McFarland discusses the sign left by a wild boar rubbing on the base of a tree in the Saxony region of Germany during a Track and Sign Certification event.

Casey McFarland discusses the sign left by a wild boar rubbing on the base of a tree in the Saxony region of Germany during a Track and Sign Certification event.

Footprint of a wild boar (Sus scrofa). Eastern Germany.

Footprint of a wild boar (Sus scrofa). Eastern Germany.

Participants in a Track and Sign Certification Event in the Liptovsky region of Slovakia inspect sign left by a brown bear (Ursus arctos) climbing a large tree.

Participants in a Track and Sign Certification Event in the Liptovsky region of Slovakia inspect sign left by a brown bear (Ursus arctos) climbing a large tree.

Tracks of a Great cormorant from the shore of a reservoir in the Liptovsky region of Slovakia.

Tracks of a Great cormorant from the shore of a reservoir in the Liptovsky region of Slovakia.

Tracks of two young wolves (Canis lupus, left and middle) and a large European badger (Meles meles) in sand. Saxony, Germany.

Tracks of two young wolves (Canis lupus, left and middle) and a large European badger (Meles meles) in sand. Saxony, Germany.

Footprints from a stone marten (Martes foina) found under a bridge in eastern Germany. Note that a Euro 2 cent peice is the same size as a US penny.

Footprints from a stone marten (Martes foina) found under a bridge in eastern Germany. Note that a Euro 2 cent peice is the same size as a US penny.

While Europe and North America share many similar species, there are a number of behaviors typical in Animals in each location which are not common in similar species in the other. The Great Spotted woodpecker, similar to the North American Hairy woodpecker, collects and breaks open pine and other conifer cones for the seeds within, in a mannor not typically observed in North America.

While Europe and North America share many similar species, there are a number of behaviors typical in Animals in each location which are not common in similar species in the other. The Great Spotted woodpecker, similar to the North American Hairy woodpecker, collects and breaks open pine and other conifer cones for the seeds within, in a mannor not typically observed in North America.

Front (below) and hind (above) tracks of a wood mouse (Apodemus species). Saxony, Germany.

Front (below) and hind (above) tracks of a wood mouse (Apodemus species). Saxony, Germany.

Numerous certificates where awarded in all 4 countries we visited including everyone who participated in the evaluation in Germany, pictured here. Congratulations to everyone. We will be finding an online home for the names and certification levels of folks certified in Europe through Cybertracker Conservation shortly. Stay tuned!   

Numerous certificates where awarded in all 4 countries we visited including everyone who participated in the evaluation in Germany, pictured here. Congratulations to everyone. We will be finding an online home for the names and certification levels of folks certified in Europe through Cybertracker Conservation shortly. Stay tuned!

 

A Taste of the Canadian Rockies

Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay National Parks

This July I made my first trip to the heart of the Canadian Rockies, having previously only been as far north as Waterton National Park along the Canadian-United States boarder. Joined by fellow adventurer Marcus Reynerson, we departed Seattle on a sunny Thursday, bound for some of the tallest and grandest mountains in North America.

The Kootenay River flows from the crest of the Rockies through Kootenay National Park to the west, its waters eventually joining the Columbia River and heading to the Pacific Ocean.

The Kootenay River flows from the crest of the Rockies through Kootenay National Park to the west, its waters eventually joining the Columbia River and heading to the Pacific Ocean.

The massive peaks and glacier dwarf a canoe on Lake Louis, one of the most popular destinations in Banff National Park. Later in my trip I was joined by several family members who dealt admirably with my camera affliction, including here while on Lake Louis.

The massive peaks and glacier dwarf a canoe on Lake Louis, one of the most popular destinations in Banff National Park. Later in my trip I was joined by several family members who dealt admirably with my camera affliction, including here while on Lake Louis.

Wildlife of the Canadian Rockies in Banff and Jasper National Parks

Marcus and I spent a number of days exploring alpine tundra, high mountain meadows, wetlands and riparian corridors searching for tracks and signs of wildlife. Highlights included signs of black and grizzly bears, Canadian lynx, and lots of moose and elk sign. Feeding sign of several species of woodpeckers was another highlight in the dense spruce-fir forests which dominated much of the lower elevations of the mountains.

This distinctive pattern on a lodgepole pine is the work of a red-napped sapsucker which drills into the bark to get the tree to exude sap. This sap attracts insects which the sapsucker returns to feed on. Jasper National Park, Alberta.

This distinctive pattern on a lodgepole pine is the work of a red-napped sapsucker which drills into the bark to get the tree to exude sap. This sap attracts insects which the sapsucker returns to feed on. Jasper National Park, Alberta.

Hoary marmot in Banff National Park

A hoary marmot scampers along an alpine ridge. Banff National Park.

 
Bighorn Sheep Ram

A mature bighorn sheep ram lifts his head to pick up scents on the wind. Jasper National Park, Alberta.

 
Clarke's nutcracker

Clarke’s nutcrackers are ubiquitous in the subalpine forests of the Canadian Rockies. Related to crows and jays, these intelligent birds often linger where people are abundant, hoping to score a free meal.

 
American pika

Likely the Rockies cutest mammal inhabitant, an American pika feeds on subalpine plants on the edge of an old glacial moraine. Pika are the mountain specialists of the rabbit family. Banff National Park, Canada.

 

Road Ecology and Wildlife Crossing Structures in Banff National Park

Given my involvement in an ongoing research project on wildlife and road ecology in the Washington Cascades (Cascade Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project), I was very excited to check out the crossing structures and fencing along Canadian Highway 1 which runs through the Bow River Valley in the heart of Banff National Park. The design of these structures was ground breaking work for the field and much of the design of our project in the Cascades was deeply influenced by this project.

Highway Crossing strucuture for wildlife

A number of crossing structures both over and under the TransCanadian Highway in Banff National Park allow wildlife to cross the highway and decrease the risk of wildlife getting hit by vehicles along the highway. Highways such as this can be a major obsticle to movement of many species across the landscape.

 

Fencing to keep wildlife off of the road along with crossing structures such as this wildlife overpass are part of contemporary efforts to reduce the impacts of roads on wildlife movement in critical habitat. Canadian Highway 1 in the Bow Valley, Banff National Park, Alberta.

 

Astounding mountain scenery

Find a few more images from my trip to the Canadian Rockies in my photography galleries.

Maligne Lake, Jasper National Park.

Still water reflects the evening light and mountains above Maligne Lake. Jasper National Park, Alberta.

 

Afternoon with a Monk Seal

Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals on Kauai's Napali Coast

During my recent trip to the Napali Coast in Hawaii I camped out on the Kalalau beach with Darcy Ottey. One afternoon, after a walk in the jungle, we returned to the beach to discover an endangered Hawaiian monk seal had hauled out on the beach. We watched it for several hours before it returned to the ocean during an evening downpour. A few weeks later the New York Times ran a really interesting article, "Who would kill a monk seal?" by Jon Mooallem which explores the complex history and current situation around the conservation of this species, endemic to the Hawaiian island chain.

Participant Lloyd Murray inspects wildlife sign on the edge of the Muddy River.

Participant Lloyd Murray inspects wildlife sign on the edge of the Muddy River.

Apparently the world can be overwhelming, even for creatures that spend much of their time lounging on the beach in Hawaii.

Apparently the world can be overwhelming, even for creatures that spend much of their time lounging on the beach in Hawaii.

While very graceful in the water, monk seals move awkwardly on land where they are vulnerable to harassment or worse from humans.

While very graceful in the water, monk seals move awkwardly on land where they are vulnerable to harassment or worse from humans.

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Hawaiian monk seal heading back to the ocean.

Hawaiian monk seal heading back to the ocean.

Once in the water, monk seals can move more easily.

Once in the water, monk seals can move more easily.

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Check out more photos of this monk seal and the Hawaiian islands here or more conservation oriented photographs here!

Making Hay in the Caucasus Mountains of the Republic of Georgia

September is harvest season for folks who live in the Sveneti Region of Georgia's Caucasus Mountains. The Caucasus Mountains are a land steeped in history and located at a geographic and cultural crossroads of Asia and Europe. Traveling through the remote villages situated among the soaring ridges and peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, felt at points like a trip back in time. This feeling was perhaps most distinct in watching the process of cutting and storing hay which was in full swing during my time in the region.

Three men from the village of Iprali work in concert cutting wild hay in a high elevation meadow in the Sveneti region of the Republic of Georgia.

Three men from the village of Iprali work in concert cutting wild hay in a high elevation meadow in the Sveneti region of the Republic of Georgia.

Careful attention to keeping you blade sharp is required for cutting hay with a scythe. Men will typically sharpen their blade after each row of hay they cut and the distinctive sound of sharpening stones against the metal blades of scythes rung out across many of the mountain valley’s we traversed during our fall travels in the region.

Careful attention to keeping you blade sharp is required for cutting hay with a scythe. Men will typically sharpen their blade after each row of hay they cut and the distinctive sound of sharpening stones against the metal blades of scythes rung out across many of the mountain valley’s we traversed during our fall travels in the region.

Often, hay is carefully collected into mounds which are left to dry before being hauled back to the village and stored for the winter.

Often, hay is carefully collected into mounds which are left to dry before being hauled back to the village and stored for the winter.

Hay mounds dotted hillsides up and down the mountainsides across much of Sveneti during the fall. Caucasus Mountains, Republic of Georgia.

Hay mounds dotted hillsides up and down the mountainsides across much of Sveneti during the fall. Caucasus Mountains, Republic of Georgia.

Hay mounds are eventually collected and loaded onto either trucks or wooden sleds pulled by cattle to be hauled into the village.

Hay mounds are eventually collected and loaded onto either trucks or wooden sleds pulled by cattle to be hauled into the village.

Hay being hauled out of the mountains to the village of Ushguli. Sveneti, Republic of Georgia.

Hay being hauled out of the mountains to the village of Ushguli. Sveneti, Republic of Georgia.

A wooden hay sled sits in front of a modern barn built with a traditional design, while two cows rigged for hauling it rest in the shade. Hay is stored in the top while livestock are penned below during the winter. Sveneti, Republic of Georgia.

A wooden hay sled sits in front of a modern barn built with a traditional design, while two cows rigged for hauling it rest in the shade. Hay is stored in the top while livestock are penned below during the winter. Sveneti, Republic of Georgia.

A massive and growing ravine sits on the edge of a village in Sveneti. Intensive and long term cattle and other livestock production have left many hillsides scared with with such erosion, while thistles and other weedy species that tolerate heavy grazing pressure flourish in much of the range lands in Sveneti.

A massive and growing ravine sits on the edge of a village in Sveneti. Intensive and long term cattle and other livestock production have left many hillsides scared with with such erosion, while thistles and other weedy species that tolerate heavy grazing pressure flourish in much of the range lands in Sveneti.

Part of the welcoming committee for the village of Ushguli. On our walk into the village we were also greeted by a horse, several pigs, and a very large but quite amiable dog. Caucasus Mountains, Republic of Georgia.

Part of the welcoming committee for the village of Ushguli. On our walk into the village we were also greeted by a horse, several pigs, and a very large but quite amiable dog. Caucasus Mountains, Republic of Georgia.

The abandoned village of Ghuli sits below the imposing summit of Mount Ushba. While wolves and bears are reported to still roam these mountains, during two weeks of trekking in the region I never saw sign of even a single wild hoofed mammal or any other terrestrial wildlife larger than a fox. Millennia of pastoralism have left a heavy mark on this staggeringly beautiful landscape. Sveneti, Republic of Georgia   

The abandoned village of Ghuli sits below the imposing summit of Mount Ushba. While wolves and bears are reported to still roam these mountains, during two weeks of trekking in the region I never saw sign of even a single wild hoofed mammal or any other terrestrial wildlife larger than a fox. Millennia of pastoralism have left a heavy mark on this staggeringly beautiful landscape. Sveneti, Republic of Georgia

 

11: A not so great bear

A young black bear makes its way across a coastal stream in the Great Bear Rainforest.

A young black bear makes its way across a coastal stream in the Great Bear Rainforest.

A long day sitting along a river here in the Great Bear rainforest trying to stay dry and not get eaten alive by bugs. The only large mammal out and about today besides us was this yearling black bear which poked around in the river briefly before nearly walking into my blind before I said hello and it ran off into the forest.On the way back in the evening we passed an absolutely massive barge carrying a huge amount of timber heading. Hard to tell from this image but the barge is multiple stories tall. Bet the bears where those logs came from are having a worse day than the fellow who ran into me this morning.To find out more about conservation issues related to the Great Bear Rainforest visit Raincoast Conservation Foundation's website at www.raincoast.org

Tug pulling a barge loaded with rainforest trees, dwarfing a fishing vessel to the right.

Tug pulling a barge loaded with rainforest trees, dwarfing a fishing vessel to the right.

Global Climate Change Comes to Carnation Washington

Under the old railroad trestle bridge over the Tolt River, WA.

Under the old railroad trestle bridge over the Tolt River, WA.

Same location as above during typical winter stream flow.

Same location as above during typical winter stream flow.

Tolt river from same location as above during typical winter stream flow.

Tolt river from same location as above during typical winter stream flow.

Tolt River, flood stage.

Tolt River, flood stage.

Tolt River from the similar vantage, typical winter stream flow.

Tolt River from the similar vantage, typical winter stream flow.

Tolt river at flood stage.

Tolt river at flood stage.

Tolt river photographed from close to the same location as photo above during typical winter stream flow.

Tolt river photographed from close to the same location as photo above during typical winter stream flow.

A new addition to Carnation. This entirely new log jam is about about 300 metres long and and 40 feet wide or wider in places, at the confluence of the Snoqualmie and Tolt rivers. It has completely obliterated a two lane gravel road that ran along the edge of the river here.

A new addition to Carnation. This entirely new log jam is about about 300 metres long and and 40 feet wide or wider in places, at the confluence of the Snoqualmie and Tolt rivers. It has completely obliterated a two lane gravel road that ran along the edge of the river here.

Looking north on Highway 203 just north of Carnation, WA

Looking north on Highway 203 just north of Carnation, WA

Flooded farm in the Snoqualmie Valley, WA.

Flooded farm in the Snoqualmie Valley, WA.

Flooded house for sale. Carnation, WA

Flooded house for sale. Carnation, WA

Flooded neighborhood in Carnation, WA.

Flooded neighborhood in Carnation, WA.

Carnation Tree Farm, WA

Carnation Tree Farm, WA

Highway 203, just south of downtown Carnation, WA.

Highway 203, just south of downtown Carnation, WA.

Flooded farm field south of Carnation caused by a burst levee on the Tolt River.

Flooded farm field south of Carnation caused by a burst levee on the Tolt River.

Highway 203 in Carnation, WA   

Highway 203 in Carnation, WA