The importance of monitoring wildlife

Pepperwood’s Conservation Science Internship, a partnership with the statewide Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program, engages Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) students in critical wildlife camera research as they assist in evaluating and cataloging data from motion-activated cameras. They also collect data for our Sentinel Site by monitoring rain gages on a weekly basis. Get to know our past and present interns through this series of interviews and articles.

The importance of monitoring wildlife

By Michaela Bush
Spring 2017 SRJC Conservation Science Intern

They say a picture holds the impact of a thousand words, but the ongoing Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) project at Pepperwood is proving that images also have the capacity to drastically improve our methods of conservation, as well as our understanding of the species that inhabit our local environment. This statement may seem bold, but the wildlife imaging approach we are using is internationally renowned, and is being adopted at more and more locations with an interest in wildlife conservation. How does a group of images hold so much importance and scientific viability? It’s all in the masterful way that the array is set up.

Pepperwood became the first organization in North America to implement the WPI method with the installation of motion-activated camera arrays both on Pepperwood and Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Modini Mayacamas Preserves in 2012. The Principal Investigator for the project is expert wildlife ecologist Dr. Sue Townsend, who has used the WPI method internationally prior to establishing these grids in Northern California.

We use motion-detecting wildlife cameras which are placed on stakes, generally facing towards the north and spaced at 1 kilometer intervals to form a grid across the landscape. The uniform grid allows for statistical analysis of trends in animal species occupancy of the study area over time.

Mountain lion photographed at Pepperwood by motion-activated camera

Knowing how and where animals travel in response to our own population is very important, even for people who aren’t environmentalists. Developing corridors for animals to move through rather than the animals trying to cross freeways and busy roadways will reduce road kill and human loss, and being aware of animals’ habitats will avoid unwanted wildlife encounters. The ultimate goal of our WPI project is to gain insights into our local animal communities, how they are changing over time under the pressure of climate change, and their movement through the landscape so we can make informed conservation and management decisions. As humans are changing the world around us, we must become aware and responsible for the numerous changes we may see in the living world.

The launch of Pepperwood’s WPI project has inspired sister organizations like Sonoma Land Trust, Sonoma County Agricultural Protection and Open Space  District,  and the Tamalpais Land Conservancy to follow suit. One day we hope to create a multi-county WPI grid to use as a foundation for environmental action creating a landscape with wildlife permeability through a heightened awareness of the impact of land-acquisition, management, and development.

Click here to read an interview with Michaela about her experience at Pepperwood

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