Wisconsin deploys huge trail camera system for studying wildlife

wolves snapshot
© Snapshot Wisconsin

Partnering with NASA and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has launched a wildlife observation program called Snapshot Wisconsin that will be one of the largest trail camera projects ever deployed.

The DNR will set up 4,000 to 5,000 motion-sensor cameras throughout the state to capture photos of the state's wildlife, including deer, bears, elk, coyotes, bobcats, badgers and whatever else triggers the camera shutter. The project will also use images gathered with remote sensing satellites to how seasonal changes influence animal movement and from citizen scientists to get a fuller picture of what animals are where. There will be a crowd-sourced database where the images will be analyzed for identification by ecologists, resource managers and the public.

“Something like this has never been done before, not for such a large area,” said UW–Madison Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology Phil Townsend, one of the leaders of the project. “The number of trail cams and the spatial scale we’re working on will make this project unique.”

This ambitious plan is one that will actually save the DNR and university scientists money in the long run. Typically animal tracking in the state has been done with radio collars, aerial surveys, manned observation stations and scouring hunting records. These methods are costly in both time and money.

The system of camera traps back-up with crowd-sourced identification will deliver a huge wealth of data about animals much more quickly and it will be a richer set of data too. With the old methods, each animal would be spotted in one place at one time. With the trail cams, there is observation of many places, 24 hours a day, so there's a more complete picture of where each animal goes and what other wildlife is also in those areas.

“The consistent monitoring will allow for comparisons among wildlife populations and enable us to better track population changes at larger spatial and temporal scales," said Jennifer Stenglein, the DNR project leader.

The DNR has mapped out 6,200 nine-square-mile grids around the state (excluding urban areas) where the cameras can be placed. So far, 560 camera traps have been set up. The DNR is managing the traps that are on public lands, like nature forests and nature preserves, but they are asking private land owners to participate and host camera traps too. The location of camera traps is kept private.

The images from the camera traps and citizen scientists are uploaded to the Snapshot Wisconsin website, where anyone around the world can help identify wildlife and provide information on what is in the photo, like number of animals, if there are young animals, behavior being exhibited and more.

If you live in Wisconsin and want to participate by hosting a camera trap on your property, visit SnapShotWiSignup.org.

Wisconsin deploys huge trail camera system for studying wildlife
It's one of the largest motion-sensor camera set-ups ever put in place and will reveal a wealth of information about the state's wildlife.

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