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Trail Cameras Deployed at LM's Monticello Site Capture Wildlife Photos

Joyce Chavez, the LM Reuse Asset manager, was pleased with the results. “I am so excited to see all of the wildlife activity on the site, as so many of our LM sites in the western United States are ideal for promoting native ecology,” she said. 

From October 2019 to October 2020, thousands of pictures of wildlife were captured, including 11 mammal, eight bird, one lizard, and one grasshopper species. Wildlife included mule deer, elk, fox, coyote, northern harrier (hawk), wild turkey, black-tailed jackrabbit, mountain cottontail, striped skunk, numerous rodents, and even a hummingbird. No sage-grouse were documented. 

Perhaps more notable were the behaviors of the animals captured: mule deer sparring, elk foraging, a hawk patrolling the grasslands. One thing was evident: animals were not just passing through the site — they were using it.  

Many species were recorded repeatedly throughout the year, but mule deer were most frequently seen. From rutting (breeding season activities) in the winter to fawning in the spring, seasonal routines were readily on display. This is a promising observation because mule deer have experienced population declines in parts of the West, prompting state and provincial fish and wildlife agency personnel to collectively work together to address long-term declines of this species.  

What did we learn?  

Trail cameras are an effective, low-cost tool that can be used to passively survey wildlife presence and activity at LM sites. An unanticipated finding of this project was the variability in sizes of animals detected by the cameras, which ranged from adult elk to grasshoppers. The ability to document something as small as a grasshopper expands the potential application of this technology to detect or monitor smaller animals, such as important pollinator species. While these cameras cannot completely replace traditional ground surveys, they are a useful supplement that can allow LM to better understand how sites are functioning as part of the larger ecological puzzle.