Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mt. Hood Tracking

Cascadia Wild has an ongoing winter citizen science project, the Wolverine Tracking Project, which aims to document the fauna of Mt. Hood for the US Forest Service by looking for tracks and other signs.  Most weekends there are excursions to Mt. Hood to snowshoe together and see what there is to see.  They offer excellent introductory training in identifying animal tracks, and each hike is guided by experts.  The "holy grail" of each excursion would be to find wolverine tracks and provide conclusive evidence of their presence at Mt. Hood to back up some recent sightings.  (Well, of course, nothing could be better than to find a sasquatch!) But information on other species are also useful.  Following extensive logging, porcupines disappeared for a time.  It was not taken into consideration that destroying so much of their habitat would decimate their population, and porcupines are slow to rebound from population losses because females usually can have just one pup per year.  So they are also hopeful to find signs of porcupines returning.  

On our trip, we found the tracks of several snowshoe hares, and followed bobcat tracks for some distance.  Animal tracking is really thrilling to me when signs are evident of animals one would be amazingly lucky to ever see in the flesh.  And when you can follow them for some time, you can see a whole narrative emerge. It's like opening a window to a whole hidden world! Snow was gently falling, which thrilled us.  Jasper just loves ice and snow.  I was pleased because it gave me a chance to take a few snowflake pictures. Their delicate beauty is fascinating to me, but it's pretty hard to capture unless you're there as the snowflakes fall. We were especially lucky that friends volunteered with us, and we thoroughly enjoyed the company.  It was a wonderful day!

I am always on the lookout for good citizen science projects.  It makes sense to me that a crucial component of a science education ought to be doing some real field work, collecting data that will actually be used for something. Sometimes we get lucky and we are able to make a genuine contribution.  Other times, the "citizen science" project is organized mainly to make people, and particularly kids, better citizens by giving them a firsthand look at part of the natural world they may previously have had no awareness of.  Cascadia Wild explained that the Wolverine Tracking Project gets together many people for its tracking expeditions because it takes years of dedicated study to become good at track and sign identification. I imagine it would be far simpler for pairs of experienced trackers to do the work by themselves each weekend, without leading a group. But like many animal trackers we have met, they generously love to share their knowledge.  They clearly believe that it's crucial to find and inspire the future trackers who will be leading these expeditions in years to come. So while Jasper and I didn't make much of a scientific contribution on this trip, the data the team collected will genuinely be useful and we were truly inspired to learn more about animal tracking. 
Snowshoe hare tracks.
Bobcat tracks.
Snowshoe hare.
Bobcat tracks.
Bobcat tracks.


Mama Gone Green said...

sounds like fun! I love your photos.

Laura Lucanidae said...

Thank you!