Sandpoint High Schools’ Forestry/Wildlife and Ecology course students embarked on a unique assignment Thursday thanks to their terrific instructor, John Hastings, and the great volunteers at FSPW who worked to create an outstanding program to get the kids outside learning from their surroundings. The course focused on wildlife tracking and wildlife sign interpretation, and began this past Thursday morning in the classroom at Sandpoint High School. Naturalist Brian Baxter and FSPW Winter Intern Shane Sater greeted students and presented them with an introduction to Wildlife Tracking. Laying down the fundamentals, the students offered great questions and answers and really proved themselves a bright group as our nation’s up-and-coming natural resource caretakers.
After a brief session in the classroom, students gathered their boots, snow jackets and snow pants and piled into the school bus headed for the Gold Creek Wildlife Management area, just outside of town. There they were welcomed by volunteers Dave and Sussanah Kretzmacher, Mary Franzel, and Project Coordinator Kristen Nowicki. Donning snowshoes they loaned from FSPW, out into the woods we hiked, a fresh half-inch of snow giving away many forest secrets. Squirrel, rabbit, elk, deer, and coyote tracks highlighted the hike to a snowy knoll where we paused briefly for lunch.
We divided the students into groups to cover two fun small group activities. Dave, Susannah, and Shane took a group into a hands-on (and feet-on!) practice concerning the Who’s, What’s, and How’s of decoding animal sign in the forests. The kids discussed track identification, utilizing concrete examples of how tracks unfold in specific patterns– concrete as in yes, they were hopping like bunnies and bounding like pine martins. They were also treated to a “basket of feet” where the foot and the track created impressions for them, in the snow and likely in their minds for years to come! To top it off, the group got to test their knowledge tracking a striving-to-be-elusive Homo sapien that had run amuck through the forest (subspecies Davekretzmarii).
Brain, Mary and Kristen tracked their way with a group deeper into the forest in attempt to tackle the When’s, Where’s, and Why’s of wildlife behavior. Near the riverbank, they began setting up a study site in attempt to capture images of the track-making mammals and avians. Brian discussed with the students his rationale for choosing the site, and the group discussed likely travel routes around the immediate area. The students placed wildlife cameras focused on these travel routes and problem solved technical camera aspects. They then assisted in crafting and placing some interesting visual and olfactory lures to encourage wildlife curiosity at the site in order to set off the motion-sensory cameras. They recorded information about the site and the surrounding forest type and structure. The instructors explained to them that their study site was one of several that will be put up around the greater area, and that the nuances of the forest character can be compared across several sites with the differing species the camera may detect.
The students returned, after a quick snowball fight, to the bus. Some were tired, some were soggy, but most had the satisfied grin of a fun day in the field. They are eager to take charge of their camera site, returning on their own time to record tracks and check on the cameras, and the entire group will return in March to disassemble the study site and analyze whatever images we may be lucky enough to capture.
Thanks so much for the positive participation on the part of the students and the careful and thought-out presence of our volunteer educators, FSPW Intern, and FSPW Naturalist. FSPW Winter Tracks rocked the woods!