In Glacier National Park, little camouflaged cameras are hidden throughout the trails, not to see hikers’ antics but to capture photos of the elusive lynx.
The 132 cameras took about 570,000 photos last summer capturing everything from bears and lynx to worn-out hiking boots.
This is part of a three-year study of the lynx population that hopes to learn about their activity in the southernmost portion of their habitat.
Washington State University graduate student Alissa Anderson, fondly called A-lynx-ssa by her colleagues, brought the camera trap technique to Montana after it was developed in Washington.
Lynx studies are often done in the winter to avoid disturbing bears, but field work in the winter is expensive and dangerous, Anderson said.
While summer research is less expensive, it still costs money. The lynx study is funded mainly by a grant from the Glacier National Park Conservancy.
The conservancy is the fundraising arm of Glacier National Park. The lynx grant is their feature project this year.
Each year, the park applies for grants from the conservancy and the conservancy raises money, hoping to fund all of the national park’s requests.
“The budget for Glacier Park is, in rough terms, the same today as it was in 2003,” said Doug Mitchell, executive director of the conservancy. “Visitation is probably nearly double.”
With public funding remaining flat, the conservancy updated its mission statement to focus on ensuring the park has a future, Mitchell said. It now reads, “The Glacier National Park Conservancy works to preserve and protect Glacier National Park for future generations.”
The national park and conservancy have a focus on education, with 24 projects falling into that category.
“Our parks are only going to stay our parks if the next generation and that generation after care about them,” Mitchell said.
As part of that outreach and education effort, more than 10,000 students had a ranger-curated visit to Glacier last year.
This year, they have the same goal of 10,000 students. By 2020, they hope to have the ability to send rangers into classrooms electronically to give students across the country access to a Glacier experience.
“The ranger park of that experience is really critical,” Mitchell said. “To have somebody in the green and gray who greets your boss or greats you electronically, and walks you through what’s happening at the national park … I think it’s neat to be able to provide that experience.”
Park rangers’ work has changed over the years and not just because of technology.
“What we’ve seen in a 40% increase year over year in law enforcement events,” Mitchell said. “If you’re a ranger, the likelihood that when you’re trying to have an interpretive discussion with a visitor, that your radio is going to go off and there’s been a car accident on Going-to-the-Sun highway is much higher.”
That led to grant requests for ranger salaries to increase the availability of interpretive rangers, especially in the back country.
After Mitchell gave the board an update in October, it funded $1.8 million in grants of the $2.5 million requested by Glacier National Park.
Now Mitchell has just two months to raise money for the $700,000 difference to fully fund all 75 projects proposed by the park.
Those projects include creating a disability-accessible backwoods campgrounds, internships in various departments throughout the parks,and a STEAM minicamp for middle school girls.
Mitchell, Anderson and a few others from the conservancy came to Spokane last week for an event at Mountain Gear called “Glacier comes to Washington.”
The event was one of many for the conservancy to spread its goal of preserving the park for future generations.
A few months ago at the Backpackers’ Ball, a fundraiser for the conservancy, Anderson’s second year of research was funded by attendees in minutes. Anderson was in awe.
“It’s not how wildlife conservation usually happens,” Anderson said.
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