Seeing is Believing

Wolves and the Role of Community Science in Wildlife Conservation

On a summer day in July of 2018, a remote trail camera set up deep inside Mt Hood National Forest in western part of Oregon snapped photographs of a curious carnivore. Months later in October, when the camera data was retrieved and analyzed, the photographs caused a ripple of excitement at Defenders of Wildlife and our partners at Cascadia Wild. The photographs were clearly of a wolf! And a second! In the Mt Hood National Forest area!

Gray wolves reclaimed their home in Oregon in 2009 when the first pack was officially recognized in eastern Oregon. For the next decade, wolves have tried to recover their territory and population, and slowly disperse to other parts of the state. Habitat connectivity for wolves, as for many other species, remains a challenge and except for a few adventurous wanderers who travelled far south and south-west (one even making it to California) the biggest proportion of the wolf population in Oregon is in far eastern part of the state. Which is why these camera trap photographs are so important — they are evidence of wolves dispersing west, overcoming highways, farmlands, mountains, and other barriers. Such early information is also useful for public agencies and conservation organizations to proactively monitor and implement measures that would minimize the risk of potential wolf-livestock conflicts and promote the coexistence humans.

This vital piece of information from the cameras would not have been possible without Defenders’ and Cascadia Wild’s Community Science Project on tracking and monitoring carnivores. For more than a decade, Cascadia Wild has been working on tracking, surveying and monitoring carnivores and educating local communities on carnivore conservation through a volunteer-run community science program. Volunteers set up, monitor, and collect data from camera traps, and look for other evidence of carnivore presence such as scat and hair. Defenders has been collaborating with Cascadia Wild on the project for two years now as a community engagement effort and to gather more ecological data on some of our priority species.

For volunteers, it’s a hands-on field experience in reading signs in nature that these animals leave behind. As a volunteer, participants get an opportunity to learn about the carnivores, their habitats, threats to their habitats, and the importance and uses of such data in conservation. The project specifically targets participants outside of the scientific community, and past and present participants cover a diverse array of social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. It also provides a wonderful opportunity spend time outdoors and learn about wildlife conservation in the process. Data from the project is shared with the Mt Hood National Forest, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Cascade Carnivore Project, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has been very useful and much appreciated by these agencies, as they are often resource-challenged to conduct such research and data collection. Such programs also double as outreach efforts as each batch of volunteers comes out of the project with a deeper understanding and stronger support for the survival and recovery of the studied species.

So what’s next for the wolves caught on camera, and their future in this complicated mosaic of urban-rural landscape? We are rooting for coexistence between man and the carnivore. In early 2018, US Fish and Wildlife Service released images of two young wolves in the same area that our camera caught the wolf images, possibly a breeding pair. Although rumors had been flying around for a while, theirs was the first concrete evidence of wolves in the area. Our cameras images were from July, which means the pair probably decided to stick around. This is good news for wolf recovery in Oregon and as wolves continue to disperse, efforts like the community science project can support decision makers to make better decisions by providing important evidence on habitat use, range and identifying potential conflict areas so we have get ahead of the problem and ensure coexistence between humans and wolves.


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