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The first big reveal of 2014

Well with a title like that, I better reveal something big. So the big news of 2014 so far:

It’s stopped snowing (for now at least).

The last few weeks have been busy busy to say the least. Volunteers and I have put cameras up on many different trails in Banff National Park and have even started to take the first ones down. Cameras are only up for 21 days at a time before they get relocated and with over 50 cameras as part of this program, things are moving quickly.

What I found in the first weeks

As you know from my last post, this spring camera deployment has been interesting to say the least. Many of the cameras have been put up while wearing snowshoes. Some haven’t gone as far down as trails as I was planning due to avalanche risk. And many of my volunteers have gotten wet or muddy feet as they tromp through the forest looking for a good spot for a camera on a trail. It’s been interesting and I have to send a big shout out to all my volunteers who have helped so far!!! Nobody has been caught in an avalanche (yeah!) and nobody has emailed me saying that my project is horrible and they don’t want to play in the woods with me anymore (double yeah!)

Some intrepid volunteers putting cameras up on a sunny day… in knee deep snow with snowshoes. I’ve got one committed team of people to help and I’m sure lucky for that!

This week, I took some of these first cameras down. I’ve only perused the images so far, but much to my dismay there were no pictures of bears. I’m reminded of how hard it is to actually capture pictures of bears using our hiking trails. I spend a lot of time thinking about why that is. Part of it is just a game of chance – a remote camera only captures a very small portion of a trail and a grizzly bear could walk 10m away from the camera and not be captured. Part of it is just that we don’t have many bears in Banff National Park and the park is a BIG place. So even if I have cameras up in an area where I know there are bears, it doesn’t guarantee that I’ll get a picture of them. With grizzly bears, you have to accept a small sample size and get on with your life, especially when studying a low density population like we have here.

None the less, I am always learning. On one camera, I’ve got a couple pictures of a cougar walking on a paved trail. This surprised me a little because we usually perceive cats to be more secretive and stealthy. And while they can be that, they can also walk straight down a paved pathway at 6am just like any other animal. It’s not a bear, but coming across those cougar pics makes me smile anyway. I love to know that these animals are out there, living their lives, doing their thing – even if I never see one while I’m out there living my life and doing my thing.

A cougar walking down a path in the early morning.

A stolen camera and your privacy

Much to my disappointment, one of my cameras was stolen with this first deployment. It’s a bit of a bummer. After I stopped swearing and cursing whoever stole my camera, I started to think about why someone would do that. There are some people who just want a remote camera, and even though mine are locked to trees someone thought they could get better use of it than I could. There are other people who are concerned about remote cameras and how their privacy might be impacted as they are trying to enjoy some solitude and wilderness.

Although this is a picture of me and my volunteer, you get an idea of what most of our images look like. People are far away and not recognizable. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re just a “1” on a spreadsheet at the end of the day. (Sorry. 🙂 )

Privacy of people using our Parks is important to me and I wanted to take a moment to share what steps I’ve been taking to ensure privacy. The reality is that I’m not really interested in people except in terms of numbers. Once the data from photos is classified, everyone in the camera frame becomes a number on a spreadsheet and the photo is deleted. I don’t really care who you are or what you’re doing in the frame, just that you’re there. All photos are deleted once the data is entered and none of them are shared with anybody – not even my supervisors see the photos of people (mostly because they don’t have to).

All my research assistants working on data entry sign a confidentiality agreement saying they will not distribute, upload, or download any images from any of the cameras. No personal information about people (sex, age, height, or even jacket colour) is recorded. Like I said, everyone gets distilled down to a number and then we’re done. It super clinical sounding, but that’s how it is.

So trust me, I’m not doing anything bad with your photo if you walk in front of my camera so there’s no need to worry.

Getting a helping hand

This PhD is stressful, I won’t lie. And keeping track of 5o volunteers and schedules and gear and trying to keep on top of data entry/analysis and writing at the same time isn’t really possible for one person. Thankfully, Super Kirsty, a wonderful intern from the UK, has arrived to save the day! Kirsty is also writing a blog about her experience as my intern (Kirsty’s awesome blog is here), you should check it out! Kirsty is going to be taking the lead on volunteer and field logistic management and that is going to be awesome!!! A project like this doesn’t happen without a little help and Kirsty and all my other volunteers make it possible to do what I’m doing. I am most GRATEFUL for that!!

Kirsty – such a trooper: jet-lagged, not used to the thin air at elevation, straight off the plane and on to a mountain bike to take down a few cameras! I believe in hitting the ground running… or biking… and there were no complaints! Great day in the field!!

The coming weeks

Cameras go up and cameras go down. We play in the woods. Photos get downloaded. And repeat.

Visitor surveys will also be starting June 1 so I’m getting those details sorted out.

It’s a busy summer ahead, but I’m stoked (as always).

#research #grizzlybears #confidentiality #Alberta #remotecameras #BanffNationalPark #remotephotos #cougar #datamanagement #volunteers

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