Located in Annapolis, Maryland, the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) brings together the science of the natural world with the science of human behavior and decision making to find solutions to complex environmental problems.
SESYNC hosts a variety of workshops and short courses to equip researchers and students with the skills needed to tackle socio-environmental problems. One unique aspect of the SESYNC workshops is that they provide full funding, which makes them more accessible to a wider variety of attendees. This year, myself and two members of the Snapshot Wisconsin team applied to attend “The Summer Institute” which focused on building data and software skills while allowing time to work on a mini project with direct support from data scientists. To say we were excited would be an understatement when our application was accepted!
The week-long workshop was divided into a series of morning lessons on manipulating and managing data while allowing afternoon time for hands-on help from data scientists. We all walked away that week with wonderful memories, new connections, greater confidence in our programming skills and a huge toolkit that we were able to share with the rest of the Snapshot Wisconsin staff. Additionally, we were able to make further progress on our mini project that we are very excited to share with our volunteers in the upcoming months. Here’s a hint: how awesome would it be to visualize Snapshot Wisconsin’s massive dataset?
Thank you SESYNC, and stay tuned volunteers!
The goal of the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study is to comprehensively examine factors that could impact deer survival and deer population growth in southern Wisconsin. Those include Chronic Wasting Disease, predation, habitat suitability and hunter harvest. In late May and early June, members of the Snapshot Wisconsin team had the opportunity to help out with the project’s spring fawn search. Snapshot staff joined the CWD team and volunteers from across the state to search for fawns in the study areas near Dodgeville.
On each day of the 3-week survey, DNR employees and volunteers assembled into a line spread fingertip to fingertip to sweep across the survey area. It takes a keen eye and diligent searching to spot a fawn, as newborn fawns can be as small as a football. When less than 5 days old, fawns stay bedded down and in hiding amongst tall grass and brush. Does often leave their fawns for hours at a time to give the fawn a better chance of survival.
When a staff member or volunteer came upon a fawn, they rested their hands on the fawn’s back to gently keep the fawn from getting up. A children’s sock was then placed over the fawn’s eyes to keep it calm as DNR employees promptly fitted the fawn with ear tags and a radio collar. These collars are made of elastic material with pleats sewn into them that pop, expand, and eventually fall off as the fawn grows – usually within 18 months. Important information such as the fawn’s sex, weight, and rear leg length was recorded before carefully placing the fawn back where it was bedded down.
The Snapshot Wisconsin team learned a lot about fawns, CWD, and how the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study gathers valuable data about white-tailed deer. This unique fieldwork opportunity also gave our team an up-close look at the wildlife we usually see in trail camera images!
For more information, please visit the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study’s webpage.
Check out these other Snapshot Wisconsin blogs related to the project:
1) Southwest Deer and Predator Study
2) In the Field with the Southwest CWD, Deer and Predator Study
The end of September is a beautiful time to travel around Wisconsin. This fall we have had a lot of opportunity to get out and enjoy the fall colors as we travel around doing in person trainings across the state. Taylor and I traveled up to Crandon and Merrill for a few days for trainings and gave a talk about Snapshot to the Lincoln County Sports Club. We were fortunate to have Friday afternoon off so we took the opportunity to check out Council Grounds State Park just outside Merrill. We had a lovely walk along the lake shore and as usual found ourselves checking out animal sign along the way. We found bear sign but didn’t see any bears. We did see some late season harebell flowers, lots of fly mushrooms, a white throated sparrow and possibly a migrating magnolia warbler.
Whenever we travel we like to take the opportunity to try the locally owned restaurants. We were fortunate to have a really good Mexican restaurant, Los Mezcales right next door to our hotel in Merrill. We have been keeping a journal of our travels since we started the project back in 2016. It is fun to look back and remember our adventures over the past 2 plus years.
On Saturday, we left Merrill to head to Black River Falls where we met up with Joe to lead a Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin Field Trip out to a couple of our elk monitoring cameras. The fall colors around Black River Falls were even prettier than they were farther to the north. About a dozen attendees met us at the Black River Falls WDNR office parking lot for a preview of our trip and a brief introduction to the elk reintroduction and monitoring programs. There are about 200 or so cameras around the Jackson County Forest specifically for monitoring the elk herd that was reintroduced to the area in 2015. These cameras are all maintained by volunteers with the Snapshot Wisconsin Elk Monitoring project.
After our discussion about the elk we drove about 20 minutes outside of town to reach the camera locations. A short hike into the woods brought us to our first camera location. Taylor showed the attendees how to perform a camera check, which includes recording the date and time of the camera check, the number of photos recorded on the SD card in the camera and changing out the SD card and batteries. We took another hike to a camera nearby and one of the field trip attendees took over doing the camera check. One of the other attendees found some wolf sign in the area, and the camera did have a wolf proximity sensor associated with it. We will have to wait and see if any wolf pictures show up at this camera site.
We plan to host this field trip for NRFW again next year. Folks local to the Wisconsin area should check out the field trips offered by NRFW every year. Many are led by DNR employees or employees and volunteers of other conservation groups across the state. They are a great way to learn more about conservation and get an inside look at what is going on in Wisconsin. Curious to learn more about elk? Check out this page on the WDNR website: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/elk.html To signup to participate in the Snapshot Wisconsin elk monitoring project send an email to DNRSnapshotWisconsin@wisconsin.gov with the subject line “Elk Monitoring”.
Stewart Lake County park outside Mount Horeb was the setting for our first volunteer recognition event of 2018. It was fun to see some of our volunteers again who we haven’t seen since training or who we might never have met in person at all. We had about 60 people turn out for a lovely evening. Jen and Taylor gave a presentation that included some of our science updates from the last year of the project. Sarah got the privilege of handing out the recognition certificates to the volunteers. I was able to share some of the changes we have planned for Phase 2 of the project, including much needed improvements to our IT system. We had been planning on cooking the food ourselves but at the last minute decided we had enough on our plate without that and opted for catering. Some of our volunteers brought dishes to pass and the Snapshot crew brought some desserts. Thanks to all for contributing to a successful event!
Unfortunately, we had to cancel our 2nd event planned for September 20th at Lake Wazee due to forecasted severe weather. We are looking for alternate dates (and an inside location!) for later this fall/early winter. We will let folks know when it is rescheduled.
We are looking forward to transitioning to more of these types of events in future as we transition more fully to online training and don’t have to travel so much for in person training. All of our trail camera hosts who have participated for at least a year receive an invitation to our recognition events. Getting close to your one year anniversary? Keep an eye on your mail for a letter from us and a special gift!
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation hosted their annual Bugle Days Rendezvous this past weekend to celebrate the RMEF volunteers and elk in Wisconsin! This year the event was hosted in the Flambeau River State Forest, one of the sites where elk have been reintroduced in the state. Bugle Days Rendezvous offers RMEF volunteers a unique opportunity to partake in a weekend of “elk camp” including exciting field trips, herd updates, comradery, and importantly the sights and sounds of bugling Wisconsin elk.
Snapshot Wisconsin team members Sarah Cameron and Taylor Peltier were granted the opportunity to partake in the festivities this year, and give a presentation about elk monitoring with Snapshot Wisconsin. Although the two missed out on spotting any early morning elk with the rest of the RMEF, they still were able to witness the sounds of howling wolves, discovered several elk tracks along back roads, and even found a sneaky tree frog hiding behind one of the Snapshot Wisconsin trail cameras they visited. It was a weekend well spent!
Find out more about the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Wisconsin, including upcoming events and how you can get involved!
On our way up north for a recent outreach event, Taylor_Peltier and I swung through Black River Falls to check two Snapshot Wisconsin cameras deployed for the elk reintroduction project. Black River Falls, located in central Wisconsin, is one of the three locations where Snapshot Wisconsin has a dense network of trail cameras to monitor the reintroduced elk populations. Trail cameras support data needed to make management decisions at the WDNR, all while capturing captivating photos of local wildlife.
Being relatively new to the project, this was my first time doing fieldwork – and I couldn’t have been more excited! While our amazing Snapshot volunteers do the majority of fieldwork, we never shy away from an opportunity to get out in the woods as well. We suited up and grabbed our gear: a handheld GPS with coordinates entered for each camera site, swamp boots, bug nets, and camera equipment. We replaced one camera at the previously utilized camera site and moved the other to a better location, free of tall ferns and at the intersection of three wildlife trails. This was great opportunity for me to gain experience in the field and I look forward to future fieldwork opportunities!
As a graduate student, conferences are an opportunity for me to share my research and connect with others doing similar work. Recently I had the opportunity to travel to beautiful Utah for the International Symposium on Society and Resource Management. This conference brings together scientists and practitioners to share research on the interaction between society and natural resources.
I learned about many innovative research efforts – a study aiming at making camping more sustainable by decreasing the impact on the natural environment (Marion et al.) and another that used survey data to understand what sources of scientific information were most trusted by the public (Schuster et al.).
Some of my favorite sessions were workshops I attended on how to be a better collaborator and communicate with journalists. I also had the opportunity to present some of my research on volunteer’s experiences participating in Snapshot Wisconsin (stay tuned to find out more!)
Of course the views weren’t shabby either. Now back to data analysis and writing!
After two days of meticulous searching in the rain, a crew of about ten people (including two Snapshot team members) dejectedly walked out of the forest. We were searching for elk (Cervus canadensis) calves in the Clam Lake and Flambeau River State Forest regions of Wisconsin, and had not had any luck thus far. Just as we were leaving, a biologist on the crew softly yelled “elk!”. Nestled into the side of a tree was a small brown creature perfectly camouflaged with the surrounding dead leaves. We estimated that we had walked by the little calf three times without noticing her!
The elk biologists put a blindfold over the elk calf to keep her calm. With hushed voices, they took measurements, applied ear tags, fitted her with a VHF (very high frequency) collar for location tracking and then moved away. Collars provide information on mortality, movement and herd interactions throughout the calves’ lifetimes. Collectively, this data can be used to help inform management decisions for Wisconsin’s elk herds.
For more information about Wisconsin’s elk herds, check out this link.
Imagine sitting in a truck parked alongside a snowy forest edge, playing a round of cribbage while dressed in full winter gear – a cooler of deer sedative wrapped around one arm, a deer blind wrapped around the other – anxiously awaiting a radio call to hop into action. This is how research technicians, Taylor and myself, spent our evening on February 8th as we tagged along to assist crew members trap and collar deer for the Southwest Wisconsin CWD, Deer and Predator Study.
The combination of recent snowfall and prolonged bouts of cold temperatures provided an excellent opportunity to get out in the field and collar deer. These conditions are ideal because they make finding food more difficult; deer have to spend more time foraging and therefore are more likely to visit baited drop nets, one of the methods the study uses for trapping animals.
On our night out with the crew, one study technician sat in a blind proximal to the net and waited for a deer to visit. Meanwhile, we waited patiently roughly a quarter mile away to minimize noise at the site. Once a doe fawn was spotted feeding on the bait, the technician triggered the net to drop and radioed our crew before sprinting to restrain the doe and cover her eyes, reducing potential stress.
In a burst of chaos, we quickly grabbed the equipment, hopped in the UTV, and sped to the net site. Upon arrival, a sedative was quickly applied. Once the doe was immobilized, we fit a GPS collar and applied ear tags, collected a genetic sample and a sample to test for CWD, and performed a series of body measurements. Throughout the process the doe was positioned on her sternum to maintain regular bodily functions and receive oxygen. We monitored her vitals routinely to ensure her safety and well-being. Upon completing these tasks, the sedation was reversed and we watched from a distance to make sure the doe woke up and was able to walk away safely.
As of February, this project had collared 91 fawns, 263 deer, 21 bobcats, and 39 coyotes with the help of 174 volunteer landowners. Getting out in the field is an experience we would strongly recommend to anyone. If you’re in Wisconsin, you can explore opportunities to volunteer on WDNR projects near you!
Curious to learn more about the CWD, Deer and Predator study? Check out Caitlin Henning’s featured blog post, or visit the WDNR project webpage. Keep an eye out for these collared critters from Dane, Grant, and Iowa counties on our Snapshot Wisconsin Zooniverse site.
The Snapshot Wisconsin team
Last week the Snapshot team traveled to Milwaukee to participate in the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference. As a sponsor of the conference, Snapshot Wisconsin hosted a booth where we met and chatted with wildlife folks from around the Midwestern U.S. We had a lot to show attendees, including some fun flashcards that the team put together to help people work on their classification skills. We were honored that our booth was chosen Best in Show!
We also organized a Citizen Science symposium called “Collaboration with the Public for Natural Resource Research, Management and Conservation.” The symposium focused on practical advice for citizen science project managers. Topics included protocol design, participant recruitment and training, data management, and evaluating program outcomes. Presenters included WDNR project coordinators, a developer from Zooniverse, and the new director of the UW-Madison Arboretum.
Christine Anhalt-Depies and Professor Tim Van Deelen
One of our Snapshot Wisconsin team members, Christine Anhalt-Depies, was chosen as the graduate student recipient of this year’s Leopold Scholarship from the Wisconsin Chapter of the Wildlife Society. Christine was chosen based on her commitment to the wildlife profession and her exceptional commitment to her professional development in a way that honors the memory of Aldo Leopold. Congratulations Christine!
Our new Snapshot Wisconsin mascot, Snappy the Snapshot Beaver, was a hit with students at the conference. We were offering up a gift for anyone who posed with Snappy for a selfie and many students were happy to participate.