Spying on Nature
Something great just happened! I was given the awesome opportunity to assist Cindy (Cynthia) Burns, a wildlife biologist for the Siuslaw National Forest, with a camera trap project that aims at capturing images of the elusive Humboldt marten (also know as the coastal marten). For those who are not familiar with camera trap monitoring, it’s a passive method used to capture wildlife images utilizing special cameras without the need for a researcher to be present. These cameras use motion or infrared sensors that are triggered when an organism walks in front of it, and are used to study wildlife for research purposes or for hunting to scout game. Our intended purposes are the former; we are trying to learn about the marten to better preserve it. You might be wondering, what’s a Humboldt marten and why are we trying to get its photo?
The Humboldt marten is an amazing small carnivorous mammal in the mustelidae family, which includes weasels, badgers, martens, mink, otters, and wolverines among others. Once thought to be extinct, they were rediscovered in the Six Rivers National Forest in 1966. It is one of the subspecies of the American marten, which is between 20-24 inches in length, weighs 1.2-3.4 pounds, and has long silky dense fur that ranges from yellowish buff to almost all black. Its diverse diet, which is representative of its opportunistic nature, includes mammals, birds, carrion, and vegetation (such as berries, plants, fungi, etc.). They reside in closed canopy old growth forests and dense coastal shrub with an emphasis on thick and complex structures on the ground to provide them much needed protection from predators. Today, there are only three small populations with fewer than 100 individuals between California and Oregon. One population resides in northern California, the second in the border between both states, and the last group is in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Due to habitat loss and human disturbance, these three populations are isolated from one another and have no means of connection.
Now that we have a good idea of what the Humboldt marten is, we can address why Cindy is very interested in capturing the dune population on camera. There have been a few documentations of marten injuries caused by vehicle collision, and the camera traps are being used to get an idea of how martens are utilizing the road. If Cindy’s cameras are fortunate enough to capture images of martens crossing the road, the photos can be used to gain funding. Some ideas they’re considering are to use the funding to construct passages under the road and speed bumps to facilitate safer travel. Isn’t that awesome! Constructing underground passageways for martens (and really any other animal that can fit could use it) to mitigate the negative impact humans have on their numbers. The project is a wonderful example of how the Siuslaw National Forest is working on wildlife management to assist populations affected by habitat loss and human disturbance.
It was very exciting to find out the Forest Service had such an amazing project. Prior to my current position as an EFTA intern, I was a research assistant intern for the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. I assisted the Urban Wildlife Institute with their biodiversity monitoring project, which monitored the distribution of urban wildlife using camera traps. Helping Cindy was very reminiscent of my times setting up cameras in forest preserves, city parks, cemeteries, and golf courses back home, and I had a blast getting my hands dirty assisting her with the project. It was also very encouraging. I was happy to realize that my past experiences have allowed me to gain and develop skills that I am now applying in my new position. I can’t wait to keep progressing in my position and continue learning more and more. So sit back, get comfy, and continue with me as my journey progresses! For science!