Blog Post

STS Civic Technoscience Project- Tracking Wildlife

Civic Technoscience Project

Michael Davis                                              Aaron Wiltz

Tyler Hale                                         Jordan Brown

 

In this project we were assigned a goal of making a public project more affordable to the public.  The point was to use a more accessible technology that would either make the project cheaper or available to a wider diversity of participants.  We as a group set out to improve the Wildpaths public project on the SciStarter website.  This project was designed to find hotspots of animal crossings around roads to be able to put up warning signs for drivers, increasing overall safety in rural areas.  Although this project is intended for Richford, Vermont, we are going to use our experiment to be able to pass along information of possible improvements to the original.  The plan to make an improvement is the use of a trail camera in which we want to increase the ability of a participant to capture an animal crossing the road at a higher rate.  Our hypothesis is that using the trail camera will allow us to capture more animals cross the road due to not having to be present at the time of the crossing.  We will find a location in which to place the camera, leave it in the location for a few days, and allow the camera to capture any animal crossings in the area.  

The original experiment is called WildPaths. It is maintained by the organization Cold Hollow to Canada. This organization uses this citizen science project in an attempt to understand the resident wildlife populations, where they live, how they use the different habitats in the forest, and their travel patterns. WildPaths is a volunteer citizen science project based on a road watch project. It asks community members to monitor road crossings in their neighborhoods, roadkill, and live sightings. The goal, as the website for the project explains it, is to use the data to better direct local efforts with future development so that they can maintain connections between core wildlife habitats. The original project focuses on the area of the Northern Green Mountains, around Richford, Vermont. Since our goal is to make this project more affordable, we thought that it would be good to focus on rural parts of the southern United States, where there are often lots of animal crossings.

During our experiment, we are going to make a few assumptions in order to make the project more feasible.  The experiment asks for people to simply take a picture of an animal as it is crossing the road.  There exist a few issues in which we are assuming you have to do in order to participate.  The thought that comes to mind when thinking of this project is if you see an animal in your car you should pull over, take a picture of the animal with a cell phone, and record your location for the project.  The project also asks for the participants to wear safety jackets while taking the pictures from the side of the road.  The assumption for the project to be made is that 70% of people have a smartphone that can take a good enough picture of the animal.  This being said that in areas of rural development about 5-10% of families would have a trail camera on hand.  Another assumption is that one trail camera would take the place of 24 people that could take an hour shift watching a certain area day in and day out.  A final assumption being that the average smartphone can cost a consumer up about $400 while a trail camera will only cost on average $75 plus the cost of an 8 pack of AA batteries every week.

We wanted to focus our adaptation on rural parts of the United States. Since we are located in Raleigh, North Carolina, rural was not hard for us to find. Our adaptation of this project would be to reach out to rural communities and ask people with trail cameras to participate by placing them close to roads and highways where they live. Through this citizen science, we would be able to track the wildlife in the rural forests, where their core is, and see how they move and keep up with them, basically applying the same principle from the original project.

To do a trial run of our adaptation of this project we started with a trail camera owned by a family member of one of the members of our group. Traditionally, you would use a strap for a trail camera and strap it to a tree in the forest wherever you want. Since we are trying to monitor the area right next to a road, we realized there may not always be readily available trees to strap the camera to. We took scrap wood, a few hinges, and about an hour and a half and created a tri-pod stand to hold our camera. We placed our setup close to a road in Angier, North Carolina.

    This project would be easy for someone who hunts often or uses trail cameras to monitor places on their property. Our target participants would be those people. For someone that still wanted to participate but did not already have a trail camera, it would be more expensive than the original project, though you can find trail cameras for under $50. Considering building a stand like we did, it would also make the project more complex for someone who was not already in the practice of putting out trail cameras or had no experience with wood work, though the stand was fairly simple to build.

    We left our trail camera setup out for three days in Angier, NC, next to a roadway. When we picked it up and checked the pictures, there were only three. We would consider these results unsuccessful. Considering the pictures, attached below, we believe that there would need to be more specific instructions for placement and general instructions for operations of trail cameras. We are unsure whether or not there were specific settings that needed to be adjusted to make sure the trail camera was in full operations. We expected it to take lots of pictures and hoped that we would capture some animals in the pictures somewhere, however we did not see any animals in our pictures.

    Considering if future participants would be able to more easily ask questions about the design of the project itself and the information it is collecting, if we were an organization like the one that put on the original project, we would be able to easily field questions via email from participants and respond with answers in a timely manner. The nature of this project is still to capture pictures of animals crossing roads and to follow the wildlife in our area to see how they are living, moving, and surviving. If we were able to successfully field participants for this project then the amount of data we would receive would increase substantially considering how many pictures trail cameras usually take which is a lot considering the sensitivity of the motion activated function.

    Attached is the process that we went through in adapting this project to fit the model we wanted to follow as well as the pictures that we captured with the camera:

 

Following up with the WildPaths project to track animals crossing roads in Canada, we first borrowed a regular trail camera that included an infrared motion detector and a solar power system. We decided to use the trail camera because it came with everything we needed: camera, motion sensor, infrared night vision, and a battery pack. Instead of building a camera, and attacking all of the components we felt like the trail camera would be more beneficial in our situation. It has the ability to take pictures for weeks on end both day and night, and nothing is fast enough to escape the infrared sensor and its wide frame camera.

When it came to building the tripod it is very simple and it only takes about an hour and a half to make. We built ours out of scrap wood and no more than $8 worth of materials. First I made a 7 inch equilateral triangle and cut off all of the corners at a 2 inch depth. I then attached three 2 inch hinges to each corner of the triangle that could then attach to the legs. The legs of the tripod were about 42 inches long and screwed right onto the hinges that were also screwed onto the triangle. To hold the legs in place a small chain was attached 3 inches from the bottom of the leg to each leg, and they were all attached together in the center so the legs wouldn't extent too far. A string was then attached to the center of the three chains and fed through a pre drilled hole in the triangle in the base and tied off so it can't go back through the whole for additional support. Lastly a rounded off block of wood was added to the triangle base so the camera could be attached.

We decided to build a tripod because of its versatility for different terrain, and it is also very easy to use and move around.The idea of a trail cam is that it is meant to be put on a tree. We like the tripod idea because it can be put anywhere, the legs can adjust for uneven ground, and it is extremely easy to move around. It was a very easy build and can be done with little to no cost.

Attached is a picture of the camera setup, though the road is not visible in the photograph, the setup is about 15 yards from the road.

Attached are the three pictures that were captured by our trail camera setup while it was set out. We looked at the photographs meticulously and could not see any animals present.

Throughout this project we learned some valuable lessons. One lesson we learned is to make sure you understand how to operate a trail camera effectively. We are not sure if we just didn’t have it on the right setting, or just that nothing triggered the motion sensor that tells the camera to snap a picture. We came to the conclusion that if we were able to reach our target participants, those who already own trail cameras, this would be a great adaptation to this citizen science project which wouldn’t require someone to stop where they are and pull out a camera and take a picture. It would only require someone to check the camera dependent upon the intervals of the battery life of their trail camera. Overall, we are happy with the adaptation we created and are optimistic in the idea that this project could effectively help us keep up with the wildlife in our forests and the patterns they create.

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