By CODY DEMS and ADAM LIEBERG
2017 marks the sixth year of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative Carnivore Monitoring Project. The project consists of teams from the US Forest Service, Blackfoot Challenge, and Swan Valley Connections, monitoring rare carnivores across 1.5 million acres. Last year, the monitoring project partnered with The Nature Conservancy to expand surveys onto the Clearwater Blackfoot Project (see map). The following contains highlights from this winter’s field work on these particular lands.
Fresh snow provides the opportunity to detect animals on the landscape. Although we search specifically for Canada lynx, wolverine, and fisher, we often get a firsthand account of the many critters that make these lands home. Whether its coyotes in search of a mate, a herd of elk on a south facing slope, or a raptors grabbing prey through a crusty snow pack, winter leads some species to rest and others to face the struggle of survival. They all have a story to tell and are adapted for success in the winter world.
We’ve seen lynx since January and the wolverine are beginning to move into our survey area. The fisher remain unseen.
The broad, hairy paws of lynx and wolverine have led us to multiple carcasses, across drainages, and through young forests. On occasion, the lynx have shown their face.
We collected genetic samples from multiple lynx throughout the Clearwater Blackfoot Project area. We celebrate finding scat and hairs left behind by animals on their daily travels.
Our truck smells like scat and our clothes like snowmobile exhaust. We make no effort to cover it up. The smells are a reminder of the great opportunity we have. The opportunity to follow forest carnivores on their hunt. To interpret their sign. To unravel their story and piece together their presence on the landscape. We have about a month left to collect information on this year’s animals. The excitement of a fresh track has not diminished. With fresh snow on the ground, we are off to find more.