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Low impact monitoring
of wildlife in the Missions

Mike Maples, left, Mike Stevenson and Tom Parker study the operation of remote cameras.

Tom Parker on the ladder is handed materials by Mike Maples while Tiger Hulett steadies the ladder.

Seeley Swan Pathfinder
September 17, 1998

A group of local community members are working to document wildlife species like the grizzly bear using cameras, tracks and a neighborhood reporting line.

Tom and Melanie Parker started Northwest Connections in late 1996 to develop methods for the community to apply collective expertise in the monitoring and evaluation of habitats and habitat connections within the Swan Valley.

The information they gather will help people better understand local ecosystems and the wildlife that reside here.

A Mountain Lion finds itself in the center of a remote camera in the Mission Mountains Wilderness.



Above, a white-tail deer and at left a grizzly bear saunters away from the remote camera.

To date, the cameras have generated dozens of pictures of wildlife including black bears, resident grizzlies, lions, moose and deer. A major emphasis of the project is to gather information about local grizzly bear activity.

"We have all this management in the valley around grizzly bears, but very little evidence of what we are gaining or losing by any particular action," says Tom. "Knowing where the bears actually are and when they are there can help us immensely to make better site specific decisions that benefit both the bears and the people. For instance, we could achieve more flexibility in road closures if we had a more complete picture of what was happening in any given place at any given time."

Parker explained that remote cameras, track surveys and the neighborhood reporting line are examples of "low-impact" research techniques that are less costly and less intrusive to the animal than other methods such as radio collaring animals. These techniques also use local people and their historical knowledge of the land as a starting point, whereas traditional research often overlooks the things that communities have already observed.

This spring, Tom and Melanie Parker, along with Condon residents Tiger Hulett and Mike Stevenson received training from biologist Mike Maples in how to operate remote sensing cameras. The cameras were placed along wildlife trails in "blind sets". Food baits are not used to attract wildlife to Condon-area cameras, Parker said.

The pictures from remote sites will augment information gathered in on-going track surveys. Next year, Northwest Connections will add DNA tracking to its wildlife monitoring projects. For example, hairs collected from trees or posts where bears frequently "rub" can be analyzed in a laboratory to determine the species, sex and individual identity of a bear.

According to Malanie Parker, data collected by volunteers and NwC staff will benefit the community, government agencies, corporate landowners and other local residents as they make decisions about activities on their lands.

If you would like more information about NwC programs, or would like to help out with any of the field projects, including big game winter range surveys, snow track surveys for furbearers, whitebark pine work and other interesting activities, contact them at: Northwest Connections, P.O. Box 1340, Condon, MT 59826. Phone: 4-6 754-3185. Email:

(Photos & copy by Tom & Melanie Parker)

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