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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Friday, January 8, 2016

I am pleased to be able to share a third 2016 Cristina Eisenberg article with you this morning-----Today, our Ecologist and Author friend discusses her journey from Montana wilderness housewife to tracking carnivores and their prey in the 1970's and 90's using VHF and GPS collars to more recently collecting data via less invasive Camera traps and wildlife transect tracking methods.................Transect tracking covering areas as expansive as 1 km. long, by 2 meters wide has enabled Cristina, professional colleagues and volunteers in the Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada to observe "THE LANDSCAPE OF FEAR PARADIGM in real time(see William Ripple/John Laundre et al. for more on this phenomena) .........In Cristina's own words------"Elk avoid areas that have highest predation risk, although those areas also have the most plentiful, high-quality food".................. "Elk in our study spend time where it's easier for them to detect and escape predators--such as the edges of an aspen stand--but which have less abundant food"................ "We also found that the more severe a fire, the higher the predation risk for elk"

Quantifying Wildness; Tracking Wolves and Elk in the Rockies

Ecologist, Author

Twenty years ago, I was a stay-at-home Montana mom
 living in a place where the large carnivore population
 (wolves, bears, cougars) outnumbered the human
 population. Parenting our daughters here required
 learning new life skills--such as wildlife tracking.
 Before I could send our kids out to play, I'd go tracking
 in our yard and woods to see who'd been around. If I
 found fresh grizzly bear or cougar tracks, I planned
 an indoor activity instead. This strategy worked well.

Beyond keeping my family safe, tracking had many
 personal benefits. It sharpened my senses, gave me
 a keen awareness of the wildlife community, and made
 me feel part of the natural world, rather than a
 observer. And when I eventually returned to college to
 become a scientist, my tracking skills provided the
foundation for my wildlife research.
The past 40 years have brought great technological
 advances in how we survey animal movements. In the
 1970s, scientists pioneered the use of Very High
 (VHF) collars that send out radio signals to indicate
 animal locations--called telemetry. In the mid-1990s,
this technology leapt forward with Global Positioning
 System (GPS) collars that collect animal location data
 via satellite signals with up to one-meter accuracy.

The Author Radio-
 a Wolf
Photo by Brent Steiner

VHF- and GPS-collar data enable scientists to answer
 questions about how animals use a landscape.
 this technology is expensive and invasive. Collars
 can cost
several thousand dollars, and actually placing
 one on an
animal can cost thousands more for trapping,
 time, and veterinary care. While animals recover
 from being
 trapped or net-gunned from a helicopter for
 collaring, and
 these procedures usually don't injure them
 the experience
can be traumatic. Cameras set to automatically
 record images
 when an animal walks by (called camera traps)
 are minimally
 invasive, but also expensive to purchase and maintain.

Camera Trap
 Image of a Collared
 Male Wolf,
 Courtesy Parks Canada

However, long before such technology existed,
 wildlife biologists
 tracked animals the way humans have for
following their trails, identifying their tracks
and droppings
 (called scat), and finding their dens, rendezvous
 sites, and
 carcasses. Today, thanks to scientist-trackers
 who have
 standardized such methods and championed
 work, wildlife tracking has made a tremendous
 as a top wildlife survey method.

Wolf Tracks,
Photo by

When I began to study wolves and their prey
as a scientist,
 I used VHF and GPS collars, but also turned
to traditional
 wildlife tracking. In 2007 as a PhD student,
 I worked with
 Parks Canada conservation biologists to
standardize my
tracking methods. I learned to collect
 wildlife data in
 transects that systematically cover a
whole landscape.
 By trial and error, I learned a large
sample size (e.g.,
 100 kilometers of transects) support
s even the most
 sophisticated statistical analysis. While
 this sounds
 like a huge effort, the transect work
 goes rapidly.
GPS-Collared Elk
Photo by Roger

Since 2008, my colleagues and I have been
 studying two
 fires in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta:
 the 2014
Red Rock Complex Prescribed Fire, which
 burned 2,300
 hectares; and the 2008 and 2015 Y-Camp
Prescribed Fires,
 which burned 1,200 hectares twice, in April
 2008 and
 April 2015. The sites contain a very high elk
density and
two wolf packs. Management objectives
 are to reduce
aspen land cover and restore the prairie
 within the burn
 units. In these sites we're studying how
 fire and wolves
influence elk behavior. We want to know
 restoring two out of three key ecological
 forces in this
system (fire, wolves) without restoring
the third (bison)
 is sufficient to return this fescue
 grassland to pre-
Euro-American settlement conditions.

Waterton Lakes
National Park
 Prescribed Fire,
Photo Parks Canada

While we've had 17 elk GPS-collared on this project,
 we've found
 given our study questions, that track transect data,
 which cost
 one hundredth of what GPS collar data cost,
 provide the most
 accurate way to determine where elk are
spending their time.
These data permit analyses of the potential
drivers of elk
behavior, such as food and wolf predation.
Accordingly, in the spring between snowmelt
 and greenup,
 we collect track transect data on elk, deer,
moose, wolf,
 bear, cougar, and coyote presence. The 1
 2 meter-wide transects extend from the
 prairie deep into
aspen stands and are based on the plots
 in which we
collect grass and aspen data. Since 2007,
 have been joining me and our technicians
for this work,
which is both highly rigorous science and
the ultimate
 tracking adventure.
Rob Watt and Mark Thorkelson Doing Track Transect 
Work, Photo by Cristina Eisenberg

Over time, our track transect data have
revealed astonishing
 things: a pair of wolves killing an elk on
 our transect line as
 we walked the transect; an alpha female
 wolf we didn't
know existed feeding on a fresh elk carcass
 in a high
predation-risk transect; a pair of grizzly
 bears mating;
a cougar stalking elk. These transects give
 us a window
 into wildness and are enabling us to quantify
 how wildness
creates healthy, resilient grassland and aspen

Volunteers Doing
Track Transect
 Photo by
Cristina Eisenberg

Earthwatch Institute, Parks Canada, and Oregon
State University
 support our work. Our data thus far are showing
that elk avoid
areas that have highest predation risk, although
 those areas also
 have the most plentiful, high-quality food. Elk
 in our study
 spend time where it's easier for them to detect
 and escape
 predators--such as the edges of an aspen stand-
-but which
 have less abundant food. We also found that the
 more severe
a fire, the higher the predation risk for elk.

I hope some of you will consider joining us in the
 field for this
work (Tracking Fire and Wolves through the
Canadian Rockies),
 which takes place in May of each year and
 provides an
excellent learning opportunity and immersion
 in one of the
 wildest, most intact North American
 landscapes. You can help
 us answer questions about how the size of
 an aspen stand
influences predation risk and elk browsing,
and what happens
 when an area is burned repeatedly.
Together we can
quantify wildness and increase our
understanding of
 the ecological role of wolves and fire.

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