Since starting my internship with HCPC this June, I’ve spent most of my days in the field less than an hour from the office here in downtown La Grande. Wednesday’s Wildlife Watchers camera check on Mt. Emily revealed the vitality of my new backyard.
The Wildlife Watchers program uses motion- and heat-activated cameras to photograph wildlife drawn to our lures. The program specifically targets the American marten, an elusive member of the weasel family that lives in closed-canopy, mixed-conifer forests. Marten need the canopy cover of mature trees, the cavities found in large diameter snags, and the ground structure created by downed trees. Their presence, or lack thereof, helps land managers determine the health of a forest.
The Wildlife Watchers program relies on volunteers to set up cameras and collect photographs and other data. Spearheading the project this summer is Jesse Peacock, a biology student at Eastern Oregon University. After a briefing by Mark Penninger, the lead wildlife biologist for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, and tour of the Mt. Emily area with Ecosystem Protection Coordinator David Mildrexler (see the prior blog post), Jesse and I set our sights, and our cameras, on the area.
Setting up the trail cameras is half art, half science. We mapped our study area and headed into the field looking for proper habitat: nearby riparian areas, dense canopy cover, and large dead trees. Once we found a promising zone, we tried to visualize the forest as a marten would: open sky through the canopy became the menacing territory of owls, fallen trees became our walkways, and squirrel middens became likely spots for a meal. We framed our shots, applied a pungent marten lure, and hoped for the best.
On Wednesday, two weeks after setting up our cameras, we headed back into the field with Brian Kelly and volunteers Allen Gorthy and Bob Peacock to check the cameras. Our results were fantastic: we successfully photographed a marten (a hard animal to lure in during the summer months) as well as a number of other non-target species, including black bear, bobcat, coyote, mule deer, and elk. Dead batteries wiped out a week of photographs at our most promising site, but that didn’t stop us from documenting a number of exciting species just a short drive from the HCPC office.
For more photos, check out http://hellscanyon.smugmug.com/. Also, we'd love your help. Whether you want to take an active role in placing and checking cameras, or just want to tag along for a hike, contact Restoration Coordinator Brian Kelly at email@example.com or (541) 963-3950 ext. 24.