Studying Winter Carnivores

From 2010-2014, Friends of Scotchman Peaks volunteers worked with Idaho Fish and Game to study winter carnivores, specifically wolverines. The idea of the project was to establish baseline data to guide conservation decision making. And that’s not easy to collect for species like the wolverine, fisher, marten and lynx, which tend to avoid human contact. 

Volunteers solved this problem with a strategic use of wildlife cameras. This simple yet well-considered approach produced valuable data on multiple species and is a valuable resource for land use and wildlife management decisions. Read about the study details here.

From 2010-2014, Friends of Scotchman Peaks volunteers participated in a region-wide presence-and-abundance winter carnivore study in cooperation with state wildlife resource management under Idaho Fish & Game. Learn about some of the carnivores and the study below.

All things Wolverine:  The history of our Wolverine Project

FSPW helped Idaho Department of Fish and Game look for this critter over the winter thanks to a grant from Zoo Boise Conservation Fund
FSPW helped Idaho Fish & Game look for this critter and its mustelid cousins for four seasons.

The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness  puts a strong emphasis on stewardship projects in the proposed wilderness, such as maintaining sustainable trail systems, educational materials to reduced human-wildlife conflicts and habitat restoration efforts such as planting trees. We were also excited to extend our stewardship and volunteer involvement to the Multispecies Baseline Initiative, which included a rare forest carnivore study, which FSPW volunteers took part in for four winters.

You can find the results of the below project on Idaho Fish & Game’s website.

A Brief History

Beginning in 2010, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and  partner agencies conducted extensive regional biodiversity monitoring surveys as part of the Multispecies Baseline Initiative. This initiative provided biologists with baseline population data for the management of many different species in the Idaho Panhandle and surrounding area. Rare forest carnivores, such as wolverine, fisher, marten and lynx, were an important part of this initiative, as their elusive natures leaves much unknown about their presence in the region.

One of the "captured" fishers from the 2011-12 effort
One of the “captured” fishers from the 2011-12 effort

To study these elusive creatures, wildlife cameras stations were deployed to strategic locations throughout the wilderness of the Idaho Panhandle and western Montana by IDFG biologists, FSPW volunteers and other organizations, including Idaho Conservation League and Selkirk Outdoor Leadership and Education. These camera stations provided a simple, effective, and non-invasive way to gather population data on multiple species at the same time. Throughout all four seasons, these cameras  documented fisher, marten, ermine, lynx, wolverine, and many other creatures. In documenting the occurrence of these animals over a broad geographic area, the rare forest carnivore study provided  baseline population data necessary for informed and effective agency decisions on proper land use and management in the region.

In the winter of 2009-2010, IDFG focused their rare forest carnivore study on the Selkirk Mountains, documenting the presence of wolverine, fisher and marten.

This group snowshoed into the East Fork of Blue Creek in the Scotchman Peaks to set up a wolverine bait station
This group snowshoed into the East Fork of Blue Creek in the Scotchman Peaks to set up a wolverine bait station

In the winter of 2010-2011, IDFG choose to shift their main focus on the West Cabinet / Scotchman Peaks area while maintaining some high value study locations in the Selkirks. This required additional hours of manpower, so IDFG invited FSPW volunteers to assist in setting up and monitoring approximately 5 study locations. Wolverines were photographed for the second year in a row in the Selkirks and tracks were found in the West Cabinets. A photograph of a Lynx in the Purcells was exciting and 18 unique Fishers were found in the West Cabinet Mountains!

In the winter of 2011-2012, IDFG wanted to expand our partnership to cover both the Selkirks and the West Cabinets in the same season. With guidance from IDFG, and support from community partners including ICL, FSPW was awarded a $27,000 grant from the Zoo Boise Conservation Fund. Funding from this grant allowed FSPW to purchase cameras and other gear and hire a part time project coordinator. See pictures from the 2011-2012 season on our Facebook page.

In the winter of 2012-2013, the Zoo Boise grant was not forthcoming, but we were committed to continuing this important research, and our community and volunteers helped make it happen by donating  money and time.  With all the support that was given, we were able to set up 17 monitoring stations. See our Facebook page for pictures from the 2012-2013 season.

Some of our duties as citizen scientists were not as pleasant as others.
Kelsie Brasseur ran the wolverine project during the 2011-12 season. She demonstrates here that some of our duties as citizen scientists were not as pleasant as others.

In the 2013-14 season, we faced the same funding hurdles, but still maintained a field presence. Although FSPW serviced just eight stations, these eight were some of the most challenging that volunteers set up for the entire four years, as most of the “low hanging fruit” had already been sampled in previous years. In fact, the last data was not retrieved until well into spring because of very dangerous avalanche conditions and the inaccessibility of the last few stations. Pictures of these gnarly stations.

Want to see how it all turned out?

Check out IDFG’s website for the project report and a great video on the project.

See this short video clip for a good introduction to our project. It’s an exciting series of photos from several early reporting stations showing some of the critters that come to visit.

Overall, the study was a great success, engaging scores of volunteers and garnering thousands upon thousands of photographs and other evidence of the mustelid presence in Northern Idaho and Western Montana. A big thanks is due to all of our volunteers, as well as to the three young women who ran the larger programs, Kelsie Brasseur (2011-12); Lauren Mitchell (2012-13); and Kristen Nowicki (2013-14).

Click here to learn more about wolverines.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in these studies!
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