We were hoping that by the middle of last June that we’d be able to drive up to Dunns Bluff. The bluff is an impressive rock outcrop near the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. But as we climbed higher and higher on the rough Forest Service road, we found ourselves busting through deeper and deeper snowbanks. The back of the four-wheel drive pickup truck was loaded with wildlife cameras, meat for bait, trapper’s lure for attracting wildlife, cables, locks, tools and an assortment of hardware. All of this bounced around in the back of the pickup making enough racket to scare away just about any wild animal within a mile. At the time, it seemed like a strange way to attract wildlife, but we knew that once things quieted down, we’d get some good wildlife photos. Finally, we had to accept the fact that there was just too much snow for us to drive to our destination. And it was too far to walk. We turned the truck around and retreated for the day with a promise to return.
|meat (bait) was placed inside metal cylinders|
At Hells Canyon Preservation Council, we actively work to protect the important lands and waters of the greater Hells Canyon region. Fragmentation of habitat from roads and logging can be a significant threat to the connectivity of important habitats such as old-growth forests. During the past few years, we’ve advocated to protect the habitat of the Castle Ridge area and worked with the US Forest Service to achieve protections for habitat connectivity in this important landscape. Castle Ridge is an 8,790 acre roadless area on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest located between the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the Grande Ronde Valley. Through the Wildlife Watchers program, we collaborate with the US Forest Service to monitor wildlife in important habitats that are essential to the connectivity of the region. Hells Canyon Preservation Council staff, volunteers from our membership, and Forest Service wildlife specialists work together to accomplish the many tasks that the Wildlife Watchers project entails.
|Volunteer Allan Gorthy sets up trail camera|
The eleven cameras captured photos of northern flying squirrel, bobcat, mountain lion, black bear, mule deer, white-tailed deer, Rocky Mountain elk, Douglas squirrel, bushy-tailed wood rat and coyote.
Three wildlife species of particular interest in the Castle Ridge area are the American marten, wolverine, and the wolf. We were disappointed that we did not capture any photos of these species with our eleven trail cameras during the field season. However, it’s important to note that the absence of photographs does not necessarily mean that these animals are not present or traveling through the area or utilizing the habitat during certain seasons.
Wolverines were recently documented in the Eagle Cap Wilderness just to the east of the Castle Ridge Roadless Area. DNA analysis of one of these wolverines showed a genetic relationship to the wolverines of Idaho and we assume that their travel corridor was through the connected habitat of the greater Hells Canyon region. American martens were also photographed in the Eagle Caps during this recent wolverine research. The American marten is considered to be a management indicator species because it is associated with old growth forests in northeast Oregon and so it has been a species of particular interest for the Wildlife Watchers program. Wolves have entered Oregon from Idaho through the Hells Canyon region as well. Since wolf recovery in Oregon is an important recent development, there is much interest in their whereabouts in the local landscape.
When wildlife travel into the Pacific northwest from the Rocky Mountain region, they often enter through the wild lands of northeast Oregon. Moose, wolverines, and wolves have all come into Oregon this way over the past few years. This is not surprising because the Wallowa Mountains, Blue Mountains, Hells Canyon and the Seven Devils are rich with interconnected lands and waters providing an amazing diversity of quality habitat.
The snow returned to Castle Ridge in October. After hiking in through a few inches of fresh new snow, we removed the cameras for the season. It had been a successful field season of collaboration with the Forest Service and volunteers. We collected valuable wildlife information that will be used to inform future decisions that affect the land management of the area. Through the Wildlife Watchers project, we are connecting people to the land while we work to protect the connections of important habitats across the landscape.
Hells Canyon Preservation Council appreciates the efforts of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and of the HCPC volunteers who make this program possible. We would also like to thank our funding partners—Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Mazamas, and Patagonia.
If you are interested in becoming a Wildlife Watchers volunteer in 2014, please contact HCPC Restoration Director Brian Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.