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Wildlife Watchers

Hells Canyon Preservation Council guest blog, by HCPC restoration director Brian Kelly.

We, three trusted staff and volunteer members of the the Hells Canyon Preservation Council’s Wildlife Watchers, set out to install our wildlife cameras.

We figured by the middle of June we’d be able to drive up to Dunns Bluff near the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon. But as we climbed higher and higher on the rough forest service road, we found ourselves busting through deeper and deeper snowbanks.

The back of the four-wheel drive pick-up truck was loaded with wildlife trail cameras, meat for bait, trapper’s lure for attracting wildlife, cables, locks, tools and an assortment of hardware. While three of us were packed into the cab, the equipment merrily bounced around in the back of the truck—making enough noise to scare away just about any wild animal within a mile.

At the time, it seemed like a strange way to attract wildlife, but we knew once things quieted down, we’d get some good data. We were after all on a mission to record what type of wildlife lived in and depended on the connections this lush habitat provided.

The snow proved to not be our ally. We accepted the fact that there was too much of it for us to drive through to reach our destination, and far too far to walk. We turned the truck around and retreated for with the promise to return.

Within a week, the hot sun melted those persistent snow banks, and we drove to Dunns Bluff and hiked into the Castle Ridge Roadless Area. Once there we installed ten motion-activated cameras strategically located in old-growth forests of mountain hemlock, Engelmann spruce, sub-alpine fir, grand fir, lodge-pole pine and western larch.

Volunteer Allan Gorthy sets up trail camera.

This rich habitat is exactly the type of land Hells Canyon Preservation Council seeks to protect. Although somewhat remote, roads and logging operations are cutting up the landscape and threaten the connections wildlife depend on to move from one mating, eating or resting ground to another.

Our goal was to collect the data necessary to help influence decision makers developing land use designations on public lands that result in more protection and restoration of wildlife movement corridors and crucial habitat for wide ranging species like wolverines.

We baited bear-proof containers and applied lure to attract wildlife to the camera. Then we left.

Bobcat caught on film. Photo courtesy of Hells Canyon Preservation Council
As wildlife came into view it triggered the cameras’ motion and heat sensors causing the camera to snap a photo. Every two weeks the cameras were maintained, memory cards checked, photos viewed, stored and filed, and wildlife species identified. And what did these images reveal?

18,000 photographs were captured and documented the presence of flying squirrels, bobcats, mountain lions, black bears, mule deer, white-tail deer, Douglas squirrels, busy-tailed wood rats (pack-rats), and more across an area that spanned 8,790 acres (3,557 ha).

Although we were thrilled with this data, three wildlife species of particular interest in the Castle Ridge area were not photographed: the American marten, wolverine, and the wolf. The absence of photographic proof does not necessarily mean, however, that these animals do not reside or travel through the area.

Image of cougar from remote cameras. Photo courtesy of Hells Canyon Preservation Council

Wolverines were recently documented in the Eagle Cap Wilderness just to the east of the Castle Ridge Roadless Area. DNA analysis of one of these wolverines showed a genetic relationship to the wolverines of Idaho, and we assume that their travel corridor was through the connected habitat of the greater Hells Canyon region.

American martens were also photographed in the Eagle Caps during this recent wolverine research. The American marten is considered to be a management indicator species because it is associated with old-growth forests in northeast Oregon, and so it has been a species of particular interest for the Wildlife Watchers program.

A black bear in the trees.

Wolves have entered Oregon from Idaho through the Hells Canyon region as well. Since wolf recovery in Oregon is an important recent development, there is much interest in their whereabouts in the local landscape.

The cooler weather signalled the end of our Wildlife Watching season and the cameras were removed for the time being.

Hells Canyon Preservation Council’s Wildlife Watcher was the recipient of one of Y2Y's 2013 Partner Grant. By providing critical funding to on-the-ground projects that help achieve the Y2Y vision, Y2Y is addressing opportunities and barriers to wildlife connectivity on an eco-regional scale. By working together Y2Y and the Hells Canyon Preservation Council ensure wildlife can move from one essential habitat to another through the High Divide.

Click here for the full blog.

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