Meet Our Wildlife Tracking Experts
Gus Goodwin, a graduate student in University of Vermont’s Field Naturalist and Ecological Planning program, is back for a second year of wildlife tracking. He also authored a technical report about habitat connectivity called Securing permeable roadways for wide-ranging wildlife in the Black River Valley.
Elizabeth Lee—a naturalist, educator, outdoor guide and writer—is self-employed and also coordinates a volunteer monitoring and tracking program in the Champlain Valley for the Northeast Wilderness Trust. This is her second season tracking for the Conservancy.
Alissa Rafferty, project lead, graduated from St. Lawrence University with a degree in Environmental Studies/Biology and works full-time for the Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter. This is her third field season of tracking work in the Adirondacks.
Where the team is tracking
Our field technicians this winter are doing wildlife detective work in New York’s Southern Lake Champlain Valley. This in-between zone characterized by farms and forests and crisscrossed with roads may provide a vital “land bridge” for bobcats and other critters to travel to and from large forest blocks in the Adirondacks and Vermont.
How We Track Wildlife
Good old-fashioned tracking skills—finding animal prints left in the snow, measuring their size, assessing the critter’s gait, and piecing together other clues to determine if a print belongs to a bobcat or a coyote, a fisher or a fox, a moose or a deer—give us a record of animal activity that would be impossible to witness in real time. Trail cameras supplement these records, helping to confirm identification, and snapping photos 24/7 no matter the snow conditions.
This work is not deep in the forest, but along roadways—not every roadway in this region, but along road segments that our computer models show as probable crossing areas for wildlife. Many of the same roads that connect people—to friends, family, businesses, schools—by allowing vehicles to drive from place to place can have the opposite effect on wildlife. Roads can serve as a barrier and isolate different populations of wildlife from each other, putting them at risk of population declines or even local extinction.
Crossing hotspots and conservation actions
As part of this fieldwork, the team uploads location and species data into a GPS unit that is later plotted on a map, in combination with other landscape features. All of this work is helping us determine where conservation actions would be most effective. Knowing where the crossing hot-spots are, for instance, can help highway departments use signs, fences, fence-breaks and culvert upgrades to minimize risks to motorists and wildlife. The information can also show us where land protection may be the key to securing “stepping stones” for wildlife to travel under the safety of forest cover and how local land-use planning can be sensitive to the needs of wildlife.
Watch A Video
Bobcats, primarily nocturnal, are rarely spotted by humans. This video was captured in 2013 by our field technicians using a motion-detecting camera within an important wildlife crossing area near Fort Ann, New York.