Farewell, Red Butte Canyon!
Hi! My name is Ms. LeSage, and I am a 4th grade teacher at the Marymount School of New York. Join me as I discover the wildlife trails of the American West!
Before I share my most recent and fascinating discovery with you, I will reveal the awaited answers to yesterday’s posting about the animal tracks. For those of you who commented and made guesses, you may have already learned the correct answers in my response to you. For those of you who didn't comment, the correct answers are as follows: track #1 was a coyote, track #2 was a bobcat, and track #3 was a Mule Deer. The coyote track was definitely the most challenging to identify, as the claw marks are not visible in the photo. The oval shape, however, is a good indicator of a coyote. The bobcat print is very clear, but many thought it was a bear because it appeared large. Next time I won’t zoom in so much, because it was not nearly as large as a bear print! Bear prints also differ slightly in shape. As for the deer tracks, the great distance between the tracks provides the best evidence that it was a deer. Mule Deer are amazing jumpers!
I think my body is really starting to adjust to this extensive hiking through deep snow, as today seemed to fly right by! Our lead scientist was confident that all of the team members could navigate the mountain effectively using a GPS, so he paired us up, gave us several data sheets to complete, and sent us off! I felt like a true explorer!
Today we measured the snow depth across the entire study area of Red Butte! You may be wondering why on earth anyone would choose to do such a thing, so I'm going to tell you now.
For the past seven years, scientists have been studying the movement of ungulates or "hoofed animals" through Red Butte Canyon in an effort to design more effective wildlife corridors. A wildlife corridor is basically a fancy name scientists came up with to describe routes or paths that animals must take in order to get from one protected place to another. While there are many national parks and reservations throughout the US, many are simply not large enough to accommodate the ranges necessary for large mammals to survive. Because of the constant development surrounding protected areas in our ever-growing country, it's becoming increasingly difficult for large mammals to find enough space to live in. That's where wildlife corridors come in to play. Ungulates happen to be the easiest mammals to study, as they create very obvious paths in their travels, and Red Butte Canyon has an abundance of moose, elk, and deer (all of which are ungulates). That's why scientists chose this location as a study site.
Since ungulates flee from humans, the best way to study their movement patterns is by marking their tracks and studying the factors that contribute to the places they choose to go. Snow depth is one of the most critical factors, as deer don't travel through snow deeper than 40cm and elk don't travel through snow deeper than 60cm. This can present a huge challenge if snow at depths exceeding these numbers stands between ungulates and their food source. That's why we had to measure the snow depths of areas both with tracks and without tracks today. And guess what? All of the deer tracks were found in depths under 40cm!
This was definitely the highlight of my first day out in the field!