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Taylor’s Fisher Frenzy

An inquisitive fisher plays around with a non-invasive sampling box.

Before joining the Snapshot crew, I worked on a long-term fisher (Pekania pennanti) monitoring project in a beautiful section of Northern California, called the Klamath-Siskiyou eco-region.

Our study focused on one of two endemic populations of fishers on the West coast found in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Fisher populations declined in the 1800s and early 1900s due mainly to trapping and habitat loss. This study was undertaken 11 years ago in response to a petition to list the fisher as a federally endangered species (which was ultimately overruled).

The goals of the project are to better understand the size and robustness of the western fisher population, explore species interactions between meso-carnivores (such as gray fox and ringtail), and investigate fisher responses to wildfires. It’s a very dynamic and exciting project to work on, with lots of valuable questions to explore.

The red X marks the location of our study area within the fisher’s historical and current range.

We used baited, corrugated plastic boxes at 100 historical locations to track our fisher populations. The boxes were fitted with a metal track plate covered in contact paper and ink, along with a glue strip that caught hair from critters passing through the box.

An example of a fisher paw print compared to my hand. Tracks of fisher, gray fox, spotted skunk, ringtail, and other species were used to calculate occupancy estimates. Hair samples were used to calculate fisher density throughout the study area.

Every day for three months, my co-worker and I would set off into the woods to collect track plates and hair snares.  This usually meant 10-12 hour days of driving around the Klamath National Forest, punctuated by steep hikes to retrieve samples in the forest.

The Klamath-Siskiyou eco-region has one of the highest diversities of conifers in the world. The area is marked by steep, rugged terrain and deep, river gorges.

Even though we never outright saw the feisty fishers, we began to expect “visits” from them at our boxes. We collected tracks and hair from the same boxes every week. The fishers certainly appreciated the chicken and cat food we left as bait for them! Our weekly box checks became like meeting up with old friends. At one site, I collected a female’s tracks and hair every week for two months. She never made a mess of the bait or destroyed the box (which I greatly appreciated)!

All in all, I had a terrific experience that helped me to understand the importance of non-invasive sampling (i.e., sampling that does not require capturing animals – like the camera trap method used in Snapshot Wisconsin)!

If you are still curious about the non-invasive sampling boxes, check out this video of the box setup.

Vivek’s citizen science and camera trapping experiences

In this post, I’ll be talking a little bit about my experiences with citizen science and camera trapping projects prior to joining Snapshot Wisconsin.

Before I decided to become a wildlife conservation professional, I was involved with citizen science projects as a volunteer. I found pleasure in natural history, making observations and collecting data for scientists. This was my contribution to saving the world, I thought! As a volunteer, I have done large mammal surveys in India, from counting tiger prey species to collecting carnivore scat. I learned a lot from participating in these projects. More than anything else, I think they provided a welcome distraction from my day job as a software programmer *chuckle*.

Here’s a misty morning scene from Nagarhole National Park, while I waited for the survey start time of 6 am.

I was also involved with conservation groups in the Western Ghats landscape of India. One project I am proud of being associated with is the Bisle Frog Watch. Every year citizen scientists congregate at Bisle (a tiny village in the Western Ghats) to learn about amphibian ecology and identify them in the wild under the guidance of researchers. What is heartening is that over a period of 6 years, we have made a checklist of 36 species of amphibians!

A night time frog watching field visit in progress.

A regular feature of our frog watch: a winged gliding frog( Rhacophorus lateralis) perched on a rock.

Apart from mammals and amphibians, I also love bird watching and regularly submit my bird lists to eBird.

A whimbrel from the Western coast of India.

Some of these experiences with citizen science gave me the confidence that I too can do scientific research. And, that’s also how I decided to pursue a Master’s degree.

Talking about my camera trapping experiences, I worked on a trail camera survey in Ecuador for my Master’s capstone project. I worked with an Ecuador based non-profit called Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation. We set up a total of 16 camera traps on several private properties and nature reserves in the Manabi province of coastal Ecuador.

Whereas the most common species in Snapshot Wisconsin is the white-tailed deer, in my project in Ecuador it was the agouti. (Although white-tailed deer have been recorded in the study site in Ecuador, they are uncommon in those parts of the world.) Whereas in Snapshot Wisconsin we see bobcats, in Ecuador we frequently recorded wild cats like ocelot, margay and jaguarundi.

In fact, I am even leaving an identification challenge for some pictures from Ecuador. Feel free to leave your guesses( along with the picture number) in the comments below. I shall post the answers soon-ish!

Jaguarundi

Picture #1

Margay

Picture #2

Ocelot

Picture #3

Tayra

Picture #4

All in all, it is exciting to be working on the Snapshot Wisconsin project – with the many citizen scientists who host camera traps across Wisconsin and many others from around the world classifying pictures – knowing we have something in common.

 

Picture credits: Frog watch pictures – Deepika Prasad; Camera trap pictures from Ecuador – Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation.

When Programs Intersect

In a previous post we shared an experience on a property restored to prairie with help from a landowner program. Did you know that 55% of Snapshot Wisconsin trail camera hosts participate in landowner programs?  The Wisconsin DNR offers many opportunities for landowners interested in managing their property.  These programs include:

Other programs are available through the University of Wisconsin Extension, including the Wisconsin Coverts Project. This project provides 3-day workshops for landowners who want to learn how to enhance their woodlands for wildlife.

Recently, a Snapshot Wisconsin volunteer in Iowa County shared with us photos captured by her trail camera after she conducted a prescribed burn on her property. Prescribed burns can be used to improve wildlife habitat, control invasive plant species, restore and maintain native plant communities and reduce wildfire potential. The Landowner Incentive Program provided support to carry out the burn.  Shortly after the burn, turkeys started using the area and showed off for the Snapshot Wisconsin camera. We were excited to see these two programs intersect!

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More resources for landowners can be found on the Wisconsin DNR website. Are you involved in any landowner programs?  Tell us about it in the comments!

Cool Projects and Tools

The Snapshot Wisconsin Team recently attended the Citizen Science Association conference in St. Paul, MN where researchers and organizations were on hand to share the latest in citizen science. At the conference we learned about some really cool projects and tools that might interest educators and citizen scientists:

Citizen Science Projects

The National Phenology Network monitors the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals, and landscapes. Their Nature’s Notebook Education Program is designed to provide students with place-based, hands-on learning opportunities.

How does this spring compare to “normal”? Data from the National Phenology Network can tell us.

The Habitat Network provides tools to better understand urban wildlife habitat through mapping.  Habitat Network connects you with other individuals in your region and provides participants with resource on how to cultivate habitat.

CoCoRaHS is the community collaborative rain, hail, and snow network.  Members of the network work together to measure and map participation across the U.S.

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Great Sunflower Project participants observe pollinators like this bumble bee.

Those interested in bees and butterflies can join the Great Sunflower Project and the Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project to help monitor how our flower loving insect friends are faring.

For volunteers in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Citizen Based Monitoring program maintains a list of citizen science projects that are active in Wisconsin.  Check out the calendar to see a list of upcoming citizen science events.

Tools

There are some great tools available to help collect data and learn about wildlife in the field. A few we learned about in St. Paul are the Echo Meter Touch device for recording bat echolocations, Song Meter for capturing wildlife sounds, and Song Sleuth for automatically identify singing birds. Ready to start a project that involves collecting wildlife sounds? You may be interested in this grant program to support bioacoustics research efforts.

Announcing! Data Exploration Toolkit for Educators

Snapshot Wisconsin is a great opportunity for kids to get outdoors and learn about their local wildlife.  To date, nearly 200 educators and their students participate in Snapshot Wisconsin, either by hosting a trail camera or participating online here at Zooniverse.

In 2016, we released two resources to help educators with implementing Snapshot Wisconsin in their classroom: Snapshot Wisconsin Field Guide for help with animal identification and Snapshot Wisconsin in the Classroom which catalogues lesson plans relevant to Snapshot Wisconsin by topic and grade level.

Today, we are pleased to announce a new resource available to educators–the Data Exploration Toolkit. The Toolkit is designed to provide students with an opportunity to explore the real data generated by Snapshot Wisconsin. It consists of:

  1. A dataset which provides information on over 2,000 images captured in the first year of the Snapshot Wisconsin project, including links to over 600 photos. The dataset is available both as a Microsoft Excel file and as a Google Sheet, making it easy to use with Google Classroom.
  2. guiding document with recommended uses for the dataset.
  3. A YouTube video demonstrating sample analyses.

Together, students and educators can ask their own scientific questions and explore data through graphing exercises or statistical analyses. The Toolkit can be used across grade levels and subject areas including mathematics and science.

Links to these resources can also be found on the Education tab of the Zooniverse page – check them out!

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Michael Theine’s students show off bar graphs they made using data from the Snapshot Wisconsin Data Exploration Toolkit

A big thank you to educators who reviewed and provided helpful feedback on an earlier version of the Toolkit! Funding for the above products was provided by the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Careers in Natural Resources: Part 2

This second post in our series on careers in natural resources. Last time we featured careers in human dimensions of natural resources. This time, we’re talking about spatial analysis and its role in natural resource management.

Spatial analysts work with any kind of data that can be represented spatially: roads, lakes, land use/landcover, weather systems, landmarks, demographics, and many many more. They use tools like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to visualize data and create maps to show relationships among variables.

In natural resource fields, we can use GIS to, among many other things, map suitable habitat for different species, plot animal movements using GPS collar data, and create species distribution maps. Using spatial analyses we can answer questions like: “Are black bears attracted to areas with higher or lower human population density?” “Are sandhill cranes more commonly found near wetlands or near corn fields?” “Where do the habitat ranges of red fox and gray fox overlap?” “Is the range of fishers expanding southward?”

Why do elk prefer some parts of the study area to others?

For Snaphshot Wisconsin, we’ve used GIS to make preliminary maps of animal presence in certain localized areas. A possible next step is to test correlations between animal presence and environmental variables to find out more about why animals go where they go. We hope that once the project is rolled out statewide we will be able to ask these types of questions for the whole state!

Careers in Natural Resources

This post is the first in a brand new series on our blog about careers in natural resources.  Within this field, careers are incredibly diverse and can range from a focus on genetics and biotechnology to parks and recreation.

The Snapshot Wisconsin research team itself is diverse. It is made up of scientists at various stages in their careers including university faculty, agency scientists, and students.  We specialize in outreach, wildlife management, remote sensing, quantitative analysis, social science, and more.  You can learn more about the team members here.

Today’s blog is on careers in human dimensions of natural resources.  Individuals who work in human dimensions focus on the political, social, or economic components of conservation or management challenges.  Their work may focus on understanding the perspectives of natural resources stakeholders, collaborating with communities to achieve solutions to environmental issues, or examining the social impacts of natural resource decisions.

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Photo Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Positions they hold might include: outreach coordinator, environmental educator, sustainability coordinator, research scientist, professor, or consultant. Skills important to this career include communication and interpersonal skills, the ability to collaborate with diverse groups, and a background in natural resources policy, environmental economics, or the social sciences (such as psychology or sociology).

Citizen science projects live and die by their volunteers, so for projects like Snapshot Wisconsin, understanding the “human dimensions” is vital. For example, knowing volunteers’ motivations can help a project to better meet volunteer interests and needs. Some members of our Snapshot Wisconsin research team are social scientists that conduct research which may help to improve our project and understand the outcomes of the project, like what volunteer learn and take away from participating.

 

Snapshot Wisconsin: Hosting a trail camera

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Fawn selfie – Clam Lake Camera Grid – photo credit Wisconsin DNR trail camera

Season 1 and Season 2 of Snapshot Wisconsin feature images from our elk trail camera networks near Black River Falls and Clam Lake, Wisconsin.  These cameras were setup and have been monitored over the last year by WDNR staff as well as partners such as Jackson County Forest and Parks and Ho-Chunk Nation DNR.  Recently the majority of these cameras were transitioned to volunteers for future monitoring.  Our project staff enjoyed the opportunity to get out in the field when the cameras needed to be checked but having the cameras managed by volunteers will allow the cameras to be checked more consistently.

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Bull Elk resting – photo credit Wisconsin DNR trail camera

Future seasons of Snapshot Wisconsin will feature images from trail cameras setup and monitored by volunteers on their own land across the state.  Anyone in Wisconsin with access to private land can sign up to host trail cameras to capture images of wildlife that may be present on their property.  The only requirements for trail camera hosts are that they have access to at least 10 acres of contiguous private land, and agree to maintain a trail camera on that land for at least one year.

Training is provided for the trail camera hosts by Snapshot Wisconsin project staff either in person in the county where they live or via online instructional videos.  During training the volunteers learn about the goals of Snapshot Wisconsin, how our data will compliment other monitoring efforts across the state and support wildlife management decisions.  The volunteers will have their own MySnapshot account which is the portal used by trail camera volunteers for uploading, viewing and classifying their photos.  We only require trail camera volunteers to review their photos in order to remove any photos of humans that may have been missed by our automated human detection process.  The volunteers may view and classify the remainder of their photos within MySnapshot if they choose.

Iowa County Training

Iowa County Training Session – photo credit Wisconsin DNR

Equipment including the trail camera, rechargeable batteries, battery charger, SD cards and mounting unit are provided.  Trail camera hosts need to have a computer with reliable access to the internet and a smart phone or hand-held GPS device for capturing camera location coordinates.  Along with retrieving the SD cards and replacing the batteries 4 times per year we also ask that volunteers clear the vegetation from a 10-15 foot area in front of their camera.  We have been continually working on reducing the number of blank photos that we have to manage and removing vegetation is an important step.

Enrollment for trail camera hosts is open state wide for educators and tribal affiliates on tribal land, while general enrollment for volunteers on private land is open in Iowa and Sawyer counties.  Four additional counties will follow by the end of this year, with the rest of Wisconsin to enroll over the next few years.  Those who are interested in hosting a camera on private land in counties that are not open yet are encouraged to apply and they will be notified when enrollment opens in that county.  When it is fully rolled out across Wisconsin, Snapshot Wisconsin will be the largest citizen science project in the state.

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Sandhill Crane in flight – photo credit Wisconsin DNR trail camera

Trail camera hosts began putting their cameras out this spring and have been calling and emailing Snapshot Wisconsin staff to excitedly report the animals they have been seeing on their cameras.  One volunteer said this about seeing a coyote: “I wanted to get a coyote and we finally got one!  I have never seen one here so that was very exciting for me personally”.

Visit the Snapshot Wisconsin webpage on the WDNR website for complete details and to sign up for the Snapshot Wisconsin e-newsletter.