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Wildlife monitoring needs helpers

VAIL – You don’t have to be a big-shot scientist this summer to participate in a wildlife project of national significance. The Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, along with the Denver Zoo and the Gore Range Natural Science School, is looking for volunteers for the Citizen Science Wildlife Monitoring Program. The goal is to monitor the movement of large mammals along Interstate 70 at Vail Pass, where many animals have been hit by cars. The data volunteers collect will help scientists find ways to improve human safety as well as preserve wildlife. “I think it can be really rewarding for the individual that has a couple days out of the month to do this,” said Monique DiGiorgio, executive director of Southern Rockies Ecosystems Project.So far, 13 people have volunteered, said Amy Masching, a conservation specialist with the Denver Zoo. Volunteers are asked to commit to a full day of training on June 10 or 11 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Gore Range school. A study conducted by the Ecosystem Project, the Colorado Department of Transportation, The Nature Conservancy and Colorado State University identified 12 areas in the state where a highway divides wildlife habitats, DiGiorgio said.These areas, known as “wildlife linkages,” were identified based on the type of animals that live there and the number of times a car crashed into wildlife. From 1993 to 2003, there were more than 22,000 such crashes in Colorado that resulted in property damage, according to the state Department of Transportation. The Citizen Science program will focus on the area between western Vail Pass and Tennessee Pass, DiGiorgio said. The purpose is to learn how the interstate affects the movement of the various animals that live on the north and south sides. At Vail Pass, two lynx have been killed in collisions, while just nine have met a similar fate statewide. Lynx are an endangered species reintroduced to Colorado a few years back, Masching said. First wildlife bridgeThe data from the program will feed into the research needed to determine where a vegetated wildlife bridge will be built to allow animals to cross the highway without getting in the way of traffic, DiGiorgio said. When combined with fences that direct the animals where to go, the bridge will add to the natural underpasses animals already use, such as drainages.”Right now, there’s not really a way to encourage wildlife to find those,” DiGiorgio said.Organizers are hoping to expand the Citizen Science program after this summer. Already, there are people interested in helping in Boulder along U.S. Highway 30 and in Durango along U.S. Highway 160, DiGiorgio said.”The first area that we’re going to look at is west Vail Pass, but we’re really hoping to do this at all levels of the state where there are important wildlife linkages,” she said.Volunteers will track the movement of big mammals from Copper Mountain to East Vail with motion-triggered digital cameras and hair snares for elk and lynx. The cameras have infrared sensors that detect when animals pass and snap their picture. A hair snare is a piece of felt with scented tacks. The scent lures animals toward it, and when the animal rubs against the tack, it leaves a hair sample behind. This data will allow scientists to know what kind of animals pass through, how many and where they are going. The Ecosystem Project’s staff plans to build 10 to 20 tracking stations, depending on funding. Each station will be manned by two volunteers, who will check their station two to three times a month, download the images from the cameras and identify the species. “We’re asking for a decent time commitment,” DiGiorgio said. “It could take anywhere from three hours to five or six, depending on where the volunteer is traveling from.”High school and elementary school students may also volunteer, but if they are younger than 18, they must sign a waiver. Elementary school students should be accompanied by a parent.”We don’t have any restrictions,” DiGiorgio said. “We’d love anybody to help, and having younger children would be really great, too.”So far, program organizers have raised $2,500 from two corporate sponsors: the engineering firm Felsburg Holt & Ullevig and the New Belgium Brewing Co., which will help fund equipment, DiGiorgio said. The Ecosystem Project has also contributed about $2,500, Masching said. The program organizers are waiting to hear from the National Forest Foundation, where they have put in a proposal for a $20,000 grant from the Colorado Division of Wildlife, DiGiorgio said. They said they hope to raise $20,000 in corporate sponsorships and $20,000 of in-kind donations to go with the grant. “We also have a tremendous amount of in-kind support from the Denver Zoo and Gore Range Natural Science School,” DiGiorgio said.Volunteer Training Session- Date: June 10 or 11- Time: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.- Where: Gore Range Natural Science School


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