Carnivores of Maine
Bryn Evans, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology at the University of Maine, is working to develop a protocol for monitoring carnivores in northern Maine. By luring animals to camera traps using bait, Evans and other researchers are getting a better understanding of some of Maine’s more stealthy creatures, such as martens, fishers, coyotes, bobcats, lynx and bears.
The overarching goal is to be able to establish a best-management practice to be able to monitor population changes for carnivore species. The highest priority are the marten and the fisher, but then there’s also a lot of interest in coyote populations, lynx and bobcat.
By rigorously assessing the use of these trail cameras, we’ll be able to know what effort is enough to get a very strong scientific estimate of the population trend.
What effort might be too much in some areas, and what other areas, habitat features, would just require so much effort to get any information that it’s not a useful approach.
That is our target point. We get as close as we can by truck, then we hike the rest of the way in to the target point. Once we arrive there, we set up three different cameras.
We get it in the area where we think it’s going to see the bait. Then we go over, stand in front of the bait, hold very still, and just move our hand in front of the bait. If that little light right there triggers, that means that the camera’s working and it’s going to detect something if it’s there.
It’s a project we’re doing in collaboration with Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Agency. We calculate the probability of detecting an animal. When we go and we put the camera, what is the probability of detecting a lynx, or a marten or a fisher?
Then we use this information. We analyze this data, and the final outcome of the project will be that we will tell the agency how many carnivore traps they need to position in the field, anywhere in Maine, to be able to detect whether over the long term the populations are increasing or decreasing.
The key thing is that these carnivores are harvested for trapping, but so far the agency doesn’t have an independent protocol to measure if these populations are doing good, they’re going up or down, etc. Once we have this protocol, the agency will be able to set up this long-term monitoring so we’ll be able to independently assess how the populations are doing, and so possibly adjust harvest rates accordingly.
The people that really are the most interested are people that are invested in the trapping community. It’s part of their legacy, part of their upbringing. They really want to know how these populations are doing, but they are a resource for everyone in Maine. They’re an aesthetic value. I love them for their role in the ecology. Anyone that’s interested in a healthy, complex, functioning forest ecosystem, you need these carnivores running around the landscape.
To me, obviously, I think they’re really important. Whether or not people think about them every day, they’re out there and they have a role to play. Knowing what they’re doing, if they’re doing well, if maybe some areas aren’t doing so well, is valuable information for people in Maine in general.
The research we’re putting in will actually end up becoming protocol which will be implemented in the field. It’s fun because this research is really applied, and we know that all the effort that we’re putting into research now is actually going to end up being something real, something tangible, that agency people will do in the future.
For me, I want to know at the end of the day that there’s going to be some potential to implement really sound management practice, to have some sort of influence, and to know there are people that are working on preserving, protecting, maintaining these resources, and that I can be part of that team.