Target Species and Survey Goals
Having accurate data on the presence of rare species is crucial to implementing any protection strategy and is the stepping stone for any further study. Our surveys collect important data that is used directly by managers and researchers to protect the native biodiversity of the region. Surveys are designed to search for two types of target species - species which are not confirmed to be present on the forest (wolverine and wolf) and species that are of special management concern (porcupine, montane red fox, and pine marten). Data is also collected on all carnivores in order to add to long term records.
Both wolverine and wolves may have been extirpated from the forest in the last century. In the last decade, however, they have been expanding their ranges into nearby areas of Washington and eastern Oregon and are now well within dispersal range for juveniles of these species. Unconfirmed but fairly reliable wolf sightings have occurred in the Mt Hood National Forest in the last year. Knowing whether these species are present is very important, especially for a top predator like a wolf, whose presence is also highly charged politically and emotionally for many people. The Wolverine Tracking Project will keep a monitoring system in place that will be able to detect their presence when they eventually expand into this area.
Montane red fox is another target species. Scientists have hypothesized, based on landscape barriers to dispersal, that the subspecies present in the northern Oregon Cascades is the Sierra Nevada subspecies, which is listed as threatened in the state of California and is being petitioned to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as well. Our surveys from the last two years have documented the presence of montane red fox in the Mt Hood National Forest and have collected genetic samples that are currently being analyzed to determine subspecies. This year we want to continue to target fox in order to collect additional genetic samples, which can provide a better idea of population affinities, and to determine the extent of their range. This data is being collected in conjunction with a region-wide red fox study by the Cascade Carnivore Project, and will also provide the Mt Hood National Forest with the data they will need to develop a protection plan for this rare subspecies should it turn out to be warranted.
At the request of the forest biologist, this year we have also added porcupine to our list of target species. Over zealous control measures in the 1980s may have eliminated porcupine from the western portion of the forest. Plans to reintroduce them are currently being considered, but before this can proceed it is important to know if any still remain in the area, since bringing in individuals from a different location can alter the genetics of the population and make it less fit for the local area. This year we will start to collect evidence of the presence or absence of porcupine on the west side of the forest so that a reintroduction program can take place if needed.
Our last target species, marten, is an indicator of healthy old growth upper elevation forests. Previous surveys have consistently documented their presence where there is suitable habitat. We would like to continue to monitor these areas to see if we note any anecdotal changes to their population that would need to be followed up on.
In addition to target species, our surveys also collect data on all carnivores to add to long term records. Probable climate change and burgeoning population growth in nearby Portland, with attendant increases in recreation and other land uses, can bring about fundamental changes to wildlife habitat, making the need for long term surveys even more important than before.
By collecting data on wildlife use and making it available to those who need it, we improve the knowledge base that management decisions are made on, which in turn improves the chances that viable populations of native animals can be maintained.