Photo Detection Surveys

Long-tailed Weasel

Despite the public’s interest in wildlife, the reality is that wild animals and the habitat they require continue to suffer from a wide range of damaging practices and projects.

Even the government agencies that are legally bound to protect threatened wildlife species are often guilty of programs that push certain species towards extinction. Often the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife lack the staff and the funding to effectively locate rare wildlife species or to adequately protect critical wildlife habitat.

Using cameras to find wildlife

For many years, CSERC’s staff has set up photo detection stations in remote, unprotected roadless areas and other places within the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park to locate rare wildlife species.

At each site, we put store-bought chicken high up on a tree to lure curious wildlife, in addition to an extremely odorous attractant. Then we set up our Reconyx digital cameras, which take photographs when the sensors detect motion.

With luck, the final result is a photographic record of each wild visitor that follows its nose to our baited tree.

Finding rare species in the Sierra Nevada

The purpose of the project is to identify which rare species of wildlife still survive within the unprotected roadless areas of the Stanislaus Forest or in other areas of special importance. These wild areas contain pockets of old growth trees and undisturbed habitat. They are remote from the roads and human activities that disturb many wildlife species.

Our primary hoped-for targets are Sierra Nevada red fox, fishers, martens, porcupines, and the elusive wolverine — all rare species that are seldom found within most logged or developed lands of the Sierra Nevada.

So far, we’ve been fairly successful at finding some of these species, including martens and the Sierra Nevada red fox on the Stanislaus National Forest and a fisher within Yosemite National Park.

However, neither the Forest Service nor our Center has been able to locate a single fisher or wolverine on the Stanislaus National Forest in recent years. A fisher was documented in 2011 in Yosemite National Park.

In 2011, CSERC captured a picture of a Pacific Fisher in Yosemite NP

In 2011, CSERC captured a picture of a Pacific Fisher in Yosemite NP

Rare red fox caught on camera

A new Sierra Nevada red fox was detected by CSERC staff in October 2015.

Check out this video captured of the Sierra Nevada red fox by CSERC’s camera stations near Sonora Pass in 2011:

You can see more great photos and more info on the red fox that was detected (and why this is so significant) here!

Bears love our wildlife detection cameras

Not surprisingly, the powerful noses of bears have repeatedly brought them to our camera stations. This is especially true for stations set up in Yosemite, like the one where this picture was taken. We had 9 different bears visit in a single week!

Despite the fact that we often hike, climb, snowshoe, or cross country ski deep into remote wildlands with smelly chickens on our backs, no bear has yet confronted us….so far. Once in a while we do meet bears, but without fail, they quickly run away.

A Big Black Bear in Yosemite
Mountain Lion

Wildlife caught on camera

In addition to bears, martens, and other species mentioned above, we’ve had gray foxes, coyotes, spotted skunks, flying squirrels, gray squirrels, opossums, ravens, ringtail cats, jays, mountain lions, weasels, and other species visit our stations.

The evidence we gather about sensitive or threatened wildlife is provided free to the U.S. Forest Service and to other wildlife researchers.

Our hope is to use our photo-detection surveys to help preserve critical habitat areas by protecting them from roads, logging, and development.

Help us find more rare species in the Yosemite region

If you visit the Yosemite region and see one of below (or any other) rare animals, then please let us know:

  • Fisher

  • Wolverine

  • Sierra Nevada red fox

  • Porcupine

Send an email with your findings to:

Read more about the wildlife issues in the Yosemite region here