Our Wildlife Watchers program bridges several important aspects of our conservation mission. Working in partnership with the Forest Service, we connect volunteers with local forests and native wildlife to provide important wildlife data to the Forest Service to help inform management decisions.
The Wildlife Watchers program tracks wildlife by using motion-triggered wildlife trail cameras. We are particularly interested in finding the American marten (“pine marten”) which is considered a “management indicator species” by the Forest Service. After scouting out a variety of forested areas, we install the cameras in locations showing the best characteristics for marten habitat. To attract martens to the cameras, we apply a smelly, gooey substance known as marten lure. We also place meat in a cage attached to a tree within view of each camera in hopes of attracting a marten to the area for a meal.
The 2017 Wildlife Watchers season began when Greater Hells Canyon Council (GHCC) Restoration Director Brian Kelly met with a local Forest Service Wildlife Biologist to coordinate efforts to collect wildlife data within the Sandbox project area. The Sandbox project is located on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in the Blue Mountains southeast of La Grande, Oregon.
As the snow melted and the roads became accessible, we installed cameras in the project area. The cameras were installed in three different forested areas with high canopy-cover, identified as “marten source habitat.” The Forest Service also identified these forest stands to be “old forest multi-stratum” structured forests. These are mixed-conifer forests of grand fir, western larch, Engelmann spruce, Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine and ponderosa pine. Standing dead trees (snags) and down logs on the ground contribute valuable wildlife habitat to these forest sites as well.
We serviced the cameras every two weeks during the field season. This involved installing new bait and marten lure, swapping camera memory cards, downloading photos and checking the photos for wildlife species. GHCC staff coordinated volunteers, purchased supplies, and communicated with Forest Service staff. Ten field trip visits to the cameras were completed in 2017. We retrieved the cameras on October 4 immediately after an early first snow of the season fell in the project area. The roads suddenly became really muddy and snowy! But with a four-wheel drive pickup truck we were able to drive up the Forest Service roads and then hike through the snow to retrieve our beloved cameras.
One of our volunteers downloaded the photos and reviewed them to identify the wildlife species. (View some of the wildlife here.) We identified the following species of native wildlife:
Rocky Mountain Elk or Wapiti Cervus elaphus
Mule Deer Odocoileus hemionus hemionus
Coyote Canis latrans
Black Bear Ursus americanus
Flying Squirrel Glaucomys sabrinus
Red Squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
Each year, we look carefully to see if we captured any photos of two other species of particular interest: the wolverine and the gray wolf. We have not yet obtained a photo of either of these species during the six seasons of our Wildlife Watchers program, but we continue to scan our photos carefully in search of them. Wolverines are uncommon in Oregon but they have been documented in the Eagle Cap Wilderness just a few miles northeast of our cameras. The wolf population is in the process of recovery in Oregon and wolves are protected by the Oregon Wolf plan. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking reliable reports of wolves in the wild.
We did not obtain a photo of an American marten this year. Knowing where martens have not been documented is still useful information.
2017 was the seventh successful season for the Wildlife Watchers program. Through Wildlife Watchers program, GHCC has developed a positive cooperative relationship with the Forest Service and has provided an opportunity for volunteers to lend a hand while getting out into the local National Forest lands that we work so hard to protect.
The field trips also provide a great opportunity for GHCC members to get out in the forest with GHCC staff. We discussed ecology, wildlife, forestry, and the work of our locally-based, grassroots conservation organization. It’s been a great way to connect people to people and to connect people to the natural world.
Six volunteers participated in the Wildlife Watchers Program in 2017.
In 2018, we will install the cameras in the Sheep project area, located in the upper Grande Ronde River watershed southwest of La Grande in Union County, Oregon on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The Sheep project is being developed by the Forest Service in participation with the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative.
If you would like to volunteer for the 2018 Wildlife Watchers season, please email Restoration Director Brian Kelly.