Secret Eyes in the Woods: Trail Cameras

Mule deer
Mule deer caught by a trail camera with a flash. Photo: Ken Bevis.

Do you sometimes wish you could be invisible out in the woods and just watch what goes by? Maybe at night too? It would be so great to be able to patiently wait for hours, days, even seasons and see the often mysterious wildlife. Hunters who sit on game stands for hours on end know this feeling. Patience is more than a virtue; sometimes it is excruciating, with hours of boredom punctuated by the thrill of a momentary wildlife sighting.

Now, we can do this without suffering the cold, heat, wind, bugs, etc. An array of amazing tools called “trail” or “game” cameras are designed to operate independently, using sensors (usually motion sensors) to automatically trigger a photo or even video. I am no expert on these devices, but I enjoy using one and seeing images gathered by others. Here, I will offer a few thoughts for forest landowners on use of these fantastic devices. Whenever I offer a class to forest landowners, I always ask who has a trail camera, and many do. The stories of the variety of species recorded are impressive.

Camera set up along a deer trai
Camera set-up along a deer trail on a burned area of author’s property. Photo: Ken Bevis.

The first generation of trail cameras used film and became great tools for wildlife biologists trying to capture images of elusive species. They were clunky, however, and required frequent visits to collect and replace the film. Today’s devices are digital and offer multiple capabilities. Here are seven key basics to consider when selecting a camera.

  1. Trigger speed – You want a fast sensor-to-shutter time. If the delay is too long, you will get many empty frames.
  2. Different options for flash – Low glow, infrared and visible. A visible flash can scare wary animals.
  3. Video and still options (some even record sound )
  4. Recovery time – How fast can the camera get the next image after taking a shot? Look also for its “burst mode” — how many photos can be taken in a row. Many cameras allow you to set the burst mode; I recommend a setting of 3 shots.
  5. Ease of mounting the camera on a tree or a frame of some sort.
  6. Battery type and life.
  7. How does it download? Remotely or with a memory card?

Recent generations of trail cameras have all of these features, but it is worth checking the specifications of any brand you consider. Higher end models have more bells and whistles, but often aren’t that different from the “standard” model. Do your homework when shopping the device, for there are many out there now.

 

Where Do I Place the Camera?

Know what distance your needs to get good pictures. Most seem to be designed to photograph larger animals, as opposed to small reptiles and such. Some won’t focus on animal that get extremely close to the lens; however, the camera may have a wide-angle lens that will capture its clearest shots at 10 to 20 feet. Before deploying your camera in the field, practice with it in a known setting and walk in front of it at different distances.

Be sure to check the angle of placement; a camera tipped too far back will give you only shots of the tips of your target’s ears while tilting downward too steeply will produce nice shots of feet only! Point the camera into an open area so you can capture pictures of your target without a lot of obstructions. Place the camera along a game trail or above a small opening in the forest. Make sure you clear away any overhanging branches or tall grass from in front of the camera’s motion sensor, unless you want to look at hundreds of images of a branch or blade of grass moving in the wind (I have done this.). Attaching it to a tree is often the easiest, but using a stand (mine is homemade out of re-bar) allows you to set the camera for the best angles.

To capture animals as they approach and move through the frame, place the camera at an angle to the trail, or directly in the line of the trail. A setup that is perpendicular to a trail will have a lesser chance of getting the whole animal as it walks by. If you have a choice, face the camera northward to prevent harsh light angles in early morning or late afternoon shots. Positioning it to capture images a strategic opening is always a good tactic. Placing a salt or a deer block in the center of the frame can work wonders to attract wildlife (bait is legal in Washington for deer and elk as long it doesn’t exceed 10 gallons).

Here is an interesting testimonial from my friend, Wally Soroka, of Colville, Washington, who provided some of the attached photos:

“Some, if not most, cameras do take pretty decent close-ups. I had a little competition a few years ago with an urban, East Coast relative (where big game was scarce) to see who could get the best mouse shots. In Colville I got a lot of flying squirrel close-ups in my chicken coop at night. And many newer cameras record sound. It’s not high quality audio but does offer a new dimension, like the sound of a drumming grouse to go along with the 10 second video or a curious deer sniffing the camera itself.”

Soroka placed a camera along an old logging road and tied a duck wing (from the previous hunting season) to a bush in the field of view. This drew the curiosity of the cat, and the got the attached shot of a cougar (see photo of Soroka with inset of his cougar photo).

trailside use of trail cam to photograph a cougar
Soroka shows where he tied a duck wing (from a harvested animal) to a shrub alongside a trail. Later, his trail camera photographed a cougar (inset) looking up at the wing. Photo: Ken Bevis.

I once placed a camera over a rotting deer carcass I found in the forest, and got a fascinating series of pictures of ravens, vultures, magpies, coyote and even a golden eagle working the carcass (see photo). Over the next few weeks my photos showed the carcass disappearing a little bit at a time.

Golden eagle on deer carcass
Golden eagle on deer carcass. Photo: Ken Bevis.

A friendly forest landowner from the Blue Mountains shared with me a series of amazing pictures of deer, elk, cougar and bear all from the same small junction of old logging roads on his property. It was a natural crossroads through which it seems every wild thing in the area passed and he had strategically placed a camera to catch the action.

A trail camera can do more than grab candid shots of animals. It can help you read your landscape. What animals are out there and where are they moving? Consider also what will be your target species? Deer are the easiest as they are generally common and use easily identified trails. Less common are the predator species such as cougar, bobcat, coyote or bear. Sometimes a raccoon, skunk or weasel makes an appearance too, and even birds. These are the prizes for trail camera users.

Many Choices and Uses

There are many brands of trail cameras out there now, with prices ranging from $70 to $500. Most are just over $100. I have heard varying reports on brands, and no complaints for any of the newer generation cameras. Most are self-contained with a small digital card that can be removed and viewed on a computer, and there are image review functions too. There are even some now that will let you look at your images remotely on a smart phone. I am sure some are better than others, and I will defer that discussion for real experts. I have an older camera that I need to replace, so please send me feedback as to what has worked best for you.

Cougar near Winthrop, WA,
Cougar near Winthrop, WA, caught by a camera placed on active winter trail. Photo: Scott Fitkin.

Trail cameras are now a favorite tool for wildlife biologists, hunters, naturalists and landowners for seeing things we otherwise would seldom know occur. There is a vast data set out there of wildlife information that was never available before. They can also be useful for security, too, by placing them along roads or overlooking a property to photograph whoever happens to come by.

And if you don’t have one yet, well, birthdays and Christmas are coming up.

Send me some of your best Trail Cam shots and permission to use them in your email and I’ll do a future article featuring “The Best of Small Forest Landowner Trail Camera Photos,” with a photo credit. You can be published!

(Thanks to Ed Styskel for his excellent article in the Spring 2017 issue of Northwest Woodlands magazine).

By Ken Bevis, DNR Stewardship Wildlife Biologist, ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov

Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office

Boyd Norton, DNR Stewardship Forester
Boyd Norton, DNR Stewardship Forester for northeast Washington.

DNR’s Northwest Washington Stewardship Forester Receives Washington Outstanding Tree Farm Inspector Of The Year Award

At this year’s Washington Farm Forestry Association’s Annual Meeting, Boyd Norton, a long-time DNR employee, was awarded the Washington State Tree Farm Program’s Outstanding Tree Farm Inspector of the Year Award for 2017. The award recognizes Boyd’s decades-long service as an inspector and dedicated supporter of the Washington Tree Farm Program.

Washington’s Tree Farm program is a state affiliate of the American Tree Farm System, a national third party certification program for forest landowners who meet a strict set of internationally recognized standards for producing certified wood. The program’s Certified Tree Farmers are required to manage their lands in a sustainable manner according to an approved written forest management plan. Periodic re-inspections by tree farm inspectors like Boyd ensure continuing compliance with program standards.

Tree Farm inspectors volunteer their time and perform considerable outreach efforts and inspections to educate the public and private landowners about the benefits of sustainable forestry.

Boyd started his career at DNR in the South Puget Sound Region in the spring of 1975. By 1977 he’d been twice promoted and moved to Pacific County in what was then DNR’s Central Region. After 14 years and two more promotions, Boyd relocated to northwest Washington where he’s been ever since.

Boyd has worked in a variety of DNR programs over the years including State Trust Land Management, Forest Practices, and assisting small forest landowners both as a Small Forest Landowner Office field specialist and two positions in the Forest Stewardship Program. In all of his career experiences Boyd’s first love has been working with small forest owners. It was that dedication that led him to his current position as the DNR stewardship forester for the northern half of western Washington, including northwest Washington, central Puget Sound, and the north Olympic peninsula.

Tami Miketa, Manager, Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO)
Tami Miketa, Manager, Small Forest Landowner Office

First known as “farm foresters” in the 1950s and 60s, then “service foresters” in the 70s and 80s, and since 1990 as “stewardship foresters, DNR employees have supported the Tree Farm Program and provided forest management advice to family forest owners for nearly 70 years. Boyd Norton’s achievement is particularly noteworthy, since he is one of only two remaining stewardship foresters in western Washington due to the current low funding for the program following loss of all state funds during the recession. and concurrently declining federal funding.

The American Tree Farm Program has its roots in southwest Washington with the certification of nation’s very first Tree Farm near Montesano in 1941. It subsequently grew into the nationwide program that it is today. More information about the program is available at www.treefarmsystem.org

The Forest Stewardship Program is a nationwide program delivered in partnership between the USDA Forest Service and state forestry agencies.

Congratulations to Boyd for this fabulous honor!

Focus on Local Partnerships and Collaboratives

In our February newsletter, I introduced a new series of articles we will be spotlighting in our feature “Ways To Connect.” We are highlighting several local partnerships or collaborative natural resources management efforts across the state that have been formed as a framework for local citizens, interest groups, governments and other organizations collaboratively identify and solve local natural resource issues.

In this newsletter, we will be highlighting the Chehalis River Basin Land Trust. The Chehalis Basin is one of the most diverse watersheds in the state, with major tributaries draining the Willapa Hills to the west, the Cascade foothills to the east, glacial prairies to the northeast, and the Olympic Mountains to the north. It is the largest basin in Washington state outside of the Columbia Basin, and drains over 2,660 square miles. The Chehalis River Basin Land Trust holds over 4,400 acres for conservation, protection, and restoration in this important basin. Read more about this fine organization in Kylea Johnson’s article, “Chehalis River Basin Land Trust: Get to Know Us.”

By Tami Miketa, Manager, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office

Chehalis River Basin Land Trust: Get to know us

A Local Force

The Chehalis River Basin Land Trust is a nonprofit land conservation organization serving the Chehalis River Basin. The Land Trust was formed in 1992 by a group of citizens concerned about the health of waters and lands in the basin. Our mission is, “to conserve, protect, and restore ecologically significant lands within the Chehalis River Basin.”

To date we steward over 4,000 acres in the basin, an impressive feat for a Land Trust that has run on volunteer power for much of its 23-year life. Each of our parcels is walked at least once per year to monitor for issues that may harm the conservation value of the property. These issues commonly include invasive plant growth or human interference.

The Land Trust Community

Chehalis River Basin Land TrustMost of Washington state is served by a local land trust. Each land trust has a unique mission to conserve the landscapes most important to their service area. We operate under a national body, the Land Trust Alliance, which sets best practices for land trust governance.

While each land trust is unique, land trusts tend to conserve lands in one of two ways. Firstly, a land trust can own land outright, which we call “fee simple ownership.” These lands are purchased with help from funds provided by a variety of different resources.

Land trusts can also hold lands in conservation easement. Conservation easements work directly with a land owner to restrict certain uses on the land to protect conservation values. Easements are a result of a conversation with the landowner and are highly unique. The restrictions tend to include an agreement not to build on the land or damage the important habitat values. Land trusts often hold easements on working farms or forests in their service area.

In the case of an easement, the landowner continues to own all of the parcel. The easement describes both the restrictions and permitted uses, which may or may not be on the whole parcel. These documents remain connected to the title of the land in perpetuity, making them a popular option for concerned landowners. Easement donors can also receive significant tax breaks for their donations to the alliance.

 

Your Land, Your Land Trust

The Chehalis River Basin Land Trust is tasked with the entire basin—over 1.6 million acres. Much of this land remains in pristine condition. The Chehalis Land Trust is focused on maintaining the quality of the basin, particularly our water. Nearly all of our properties contain streams, river frontage, or valuable surge plain habitat. See our properties at chehalislandtrust.org/properties

 

Basin Education: Partnering with SFLO

The land trust serves our community in more ways than land conservation. We also provide free nature education events, membership programs, and volunteer opportunities.

This year we are able to provide monthly free nature education events with help from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The “Learnings from the Chehalis” series focuses on bringing the community out to see the unique places and explore issues in the Chehalis Basin. A special edition of “Learnings from the Chehalis” will take place this August in partnership with the SFLO program.

Forestland Resiliency: Meeting Future Challenges

Saturday, Aug. 5,
1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
72 Tornquist Rd,
McCleary, WA

We will tour a small, locally owned forest and learn about the big issues for local forests: threat of conversion, climate change, and biodiversity loss—with a focus on what landowners should know and actions they can take today to address these issues.

A team of forestry professionals will lead this talk, including Andrea Watts, Amy Ramsey, Jeff DeBell, Josh Meek and Julie Sackett.

Mark Your Calendars! Visit chehalislandtrust.org to see the full list of nature education events, and to reserve your FREE tickets!

 

Get Involved with Your Land Trust

You don’t have to be a landowner to get involved! Join us as a member, a volunteer, or a donor. It takes a village to maintain a healthy basin…

By Kylea Johnson, Programs Staff, Chehalis River Basin Land Trust

 

Two DNR Programs Helping to Conserve Forestland in the Chehalis Basin

Wynoochee River
A FREP easement along the Wynoochee River, a major tributary to the Chehalis River.

Recently, the Chehalis Basin Partnership was featured in an edition of the Small Forest Landowner News. One of the partnership’s stated goals is to keep forestry on the land because of its contributions to the basin’s environment and economy. Part of the Chehalis Basin Strategy is to improve river habitat and restore river banks. There are two programs administered by the Small Forest Landowner Office that are available to forest landowners, both large and small, that can help achieve these goals. Read on to learn about the Forestry Riparian Easement Program, and the Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program, and how they help not only forest landowners, but also the goals of the Chehalis Basin Partnership.

 

Forestry Riparian Easement Program: Designed for Small Landowners

The Forestry Riparian Easement Program (FREP) is available solely to small forest landowners who own at least 20 acres. The 1999 Legislature established FREP to help small forest landowners who may have seen the economic viability of their forestland reduced due increasing regulations. Small forest landowners—those who harvest less than two million board feet of timber per year—are eligible to apply to FREP. This program will reimburse landowners for 50 percent or more of the value of qualifying timber that is required to be left along fish bearing and non-fish bearing perennial streams, as well as certain wetlands. In return, the landowners grant the DNR a 50-year conservation easement on the trees in the riparian area. This program is on a first come, first served basis, and is funded based on the date of a complete application to the program.

In the Chehalis Basin, FREP has purchased 52 easements, with several more waiting for funding. These 52 easements protect of a total of 356 acres of riparian management zones (RMZ) around fish and non-fish perennial water, 196 acres of channel migration zones (CMZ), 43 acres of wetland management zones (WMZ), and 13 acres of unstable slopes adjacent to RMZs, CMZs or WMZs, for a total of over 600 acres of riparian forestland conserved. This also translates into protection for over 20 miles of streams and rivers in the basin.

 

Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program: Protecting Critical Habitat

A channel migration zone (CMZ) on the Satsop River
A channel migration zone (CMZ) on the Satsop River.

The Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program (RHOSP) is available to small and large forest landowners alike. This program differs in a few important ways from FREP. First, this program is specifically for protecting channel migration zones and critical habitat for State-listed threatened or endangered species. RMZs, WMZs and unstable slopes are not specifically eligible (although potentially may be included as critical habitat). A landowner is reimbursed for 100 percent of the qualifying timber value, and grants the State a perpetual easement on the trees in the area identified as eligible. Unlike FREP, this program is not first come-first served, but is ranked by a committee based on conservation benefits and landowner management options.

The easements in this program tend to be for larger dollar amounts, and the program receives less funding from the Legislature, which results in fewer easement purchases. There are two RHOSP easements within the Chehalis Basin, one within a CMZ on the Satsop River, and one within the CMZ of the Humptulips River. Together, these easements conserve an additional 57 acres of CMZ within the basin, and over two miles of additional stream length. One of these easements was granted to a large forest landowner, and one to small forest landowner.

If you own forestland, and think you might be interested in any one of these programs, please don’t hesitate to email me for more information. You may also contact your local landowner assistance or stewardship forester for more information as well.

By Matt Provencher, Conservation Easement Program Coordinator, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office, matthew.provencher@dnr.wa.gov

How To: Create an Editable and Savable Forest Practices Application

Hello good readers of the SFLO Newsletter! As the compiler and publisher of this here newsletter, I’ve been too busy wrangling articles from our foresters, biologists and assorted specialists to write an article of my own. But lately several small forest landowners have made me aware of some of the various technical issues they encounter using our DNR webpage, software and tools related to forest practices. Starting now, I intend to write an intermittent series describing how to best utilize some of the tools found through our DNR webpage. First up is a discussion on creating a Forest Practices Application in PDF format that you can edit and save to your computer.

Many folks have called lately with issues related to adding their information to a Forest Practices Application on our website, saving it but then finding that their edits didn’t actually save. There’s nothing worse than working on something for a few hours, just to find out that it didn’t save properly and you lost everything. Here’s how to get around that issue:

  1. First and most crucial: Ensure you have Adobe Reader, a free downloadable program that allows you to open, read and save PDF (portable document format) files. Note: DNR makes no attestations to the validity of software you download. Make sure you’re getting a legit copy of the software by downloading and don’t download anything suspicious).
  2. Open the FPA/N (we’ve selected the form for Western Washington) by clicking on this link.
  3. DON’T ADD ANY TEXT TO THIS FPA YET! You first need to save the PDF to your computer, and then open it through Adobe Reader.
  4. If you’re using the Google Chrome browser: In the upper right corner of the screen (see image below), there’s a tiny arrow with a line under it. Click that, and a box will open asking you where you want to save the document. Save it to your computer’s desktop or wherever else is most convenient for you.
    Download" control in the Google Chrome browser
    Red arrow (upper right corner) points to the document “Download” control in the Google Chrome browser.

     

  5. If you’re using the Internet Explorer browser (see below): Look in the upper left corner of the screen for a small button image that looks like a computer floppy disk. Click that, and a box will open asking you where you want to save the document. Save it to your computer’s desktop or wherever else is most convenient for you.
     "Download" control in the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser.
    Red arrow (upper left corner) points to the document “Download and Save” control in the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser.

     

  6. Next, look in your computer’s list of programs (the example below shows a Windows 10 display). Find and open the Adobe Reader program that you installed on your computer.

    The free Adobe Reader program
    The free Adobe Reader software.
  7. Now that Adobe is open, you need to open your recently saved FPA document. To do this, click “File” in the upper left hand corner of the screen (see below) and then click “Open.” Navigate to where you saved the FPA and click “Open.”
  8. You should now see the blank FPA open in Adobe Reader. Having the document open in the Adobe Reader program instead of your internet browser allows you to edit and save the PDF to your computer.
  9. Give it a try. Type your name into the FPA’s “Landowner” box as a test. Then save the document: in the upper right corner of the screen, click “File” and then “Save As.” Save with a different name than what you called it as a blank document. An example might be “Blank FPA YourLastName.”
  10. Once it saves, close the document, and then reopen it. Your name should still be on the document and you should feel like a huge success for successfully navigating DNR’s online forms! You’re good to continue the rest of the FPA with the knowledge that you won’t lose all of your work.
  11. If this doesn’t work for you and you’re still wildly frustrated, feel free to email me or call at 360-902-1849. Additionally, if you have further ideas for topics of future how-to articles, please let me know. Thanks for reading.

By Josh Meek – Technical Assistance Forester, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office, joshua.meek@dnr.wa.gov

DNR Log and Lumber Price Outlook

DNR composite log prices
Figure 1: DNR composite log prices table from the DNR Quarterly Economic and Revenue Forecast, June 2017.

Log Prices

From the June 2017 DNR Economic and Revenue Forecast: Figure 1 presents prices for Douglas fir, hemlock, and DNR’s composite log. The latter is calculated from prices for logs delivered to regional mills, weighted by the average geographic location, species, and grade composition of timber typically sold by DNR. In other words, it is the price a mill would pay for delivery of the typical log harvested from DNR-managed lands. Readily visible on the graph is the decline in the premium for Douglas fir—due in large part to Chinese demand fortifying hemlock prices. Also readily visible is the drop in prices from late 2014 to early 2016. The price of a ‘typical’ DNR log moved up sharply from a two-year plateau in 2013 to $591/mbf (thousand board feet) in 2014. However, prices declined through 2015 to average $521/mbf. The decline in log price is primarily due to the slowdown in demand from China and ample regional supply of both logs and lumber.

Log prices in 2016 increased to average $536/mbf, they’ve averaged $578 in the first five months of 2017, and we expect them to stay strong throughout the rest of the year.

Lumber Prices

After peaking at $373/mbf in 2014, West Coast lumber prices fell to $311/mbf for 2015. They recovered slightly in 2016, averaging $327/mbf, mostly due to higher first quarter housing starts than in 2015. The increase in starts spiked lumber demand, catching lumber dealers off-guard, and pushed prices up from the end of the first quarter. Prices retreated toward the end of the year but did not fall to earlier lows. Lumber prices have averaged $378/mbf through May.

About this Forecast

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) publishes Economic and Revenue Forecasts quarterly to project revenues from Washington state lands it manages. These revenues are distributed to management funds and beneficiary accounts as directed by statute. DNR Forecasts provide information used in the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast issued by the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

Wanted: Your Ideas for Rural Economic Partnerships

The Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, announced last month by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, announced is looking for your suggestions to help answer this question: How can DNR use its considerable land assets and expertise with communities around the state to create new economic opportunities, especially in communities that reply on the natural resources industry.

“The land feeds us in so many ways and we need to nurture it so that it will continue to provide for us far into the future,” Franz says. “We will bring innovation and partnership to get the most value out of those public lands for our communities’ quality of life, even as we sustain these landscapes. This approach replaces the outmoded paradigm of ‘economy OR environment’ with ‘economy AND environment.’”

Franz issued a standing invitation to communities around the state to partner with DNR on potential development projects that can stimulate local economies in sustainable, clean ways. From innovative farming methods to forest restoration to recreation to clean energy, no prospective project is too small for consideration. Suggestions and inquiries for those interested in the program can be made at dnr.wa.gov/rcpi.

We hope you will take a few minutes to offer your suggestions.