Snow Tracking on the Gunnison National Forest

Photo of biologist and students looking at tracks in snow.

A local Colorado Parks and Wildlife expert discusses with students and volunteers
the details of identifying Mountain Lion tracks and the protocol of the survey.

Tracks can tell a biologist a lot about the movement and occurrence of animal species in an area. And fresh layers of snow during the winter can provide a virtual diary of daily or weekly animal activities. The Gunnison National Forest wildlife biologist, Matt Vasquez has initiated a snow tracking program (associated with Nature Watch) involving interested students and volunteers to help him figure out where all the “animal action” is during the winter.

photo of lynx standing on rock ledge.

A Canada lynx observed on the Gunnison Ranger District (photo by Mike Jackson, retired wildlife biologist).

“Ultimately the goal is to document lynx presence within a known lynx travel corridor,” says Vasquez. “But, we also get a pretty good idea about the occurrence and abundance of other forest carnivores particularly pine marten and prey species such as snowshoe hares.” Our long term goal is to conduct snow tracking surveys several times during the winter by having Western State Colorado University student volunteers, interns and citizen volunteers conduct the surveys.  These volunteers document tracks of wildlife species along pre-determined snow tracking routes.

Vasquez has been working with Western State Colorado University to establish a snow-tracking internship program. Currently two students have been selected for the program anticipated to start in January 2013.  An experienced tracker from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Vasquez provided field training on snow tracking to about 12 students, and 2 public volunteers. Vasquez plans to expand the snow tracking effort to include a small portion of the Rio Grande National Forest adjacent to the Gunnison Ranger District. Check back here during the winter for more images and information on what the snow trackers are discovering!

photo: close up of mt lion tracks in snow.

Mountain lion tracks

photo: close up of rabbit tracks.

Cottontail rabbit tracks

photo of lynx tracks adn coyote tracks

Lynx tracks (left), and coyote tracks (right). Note how the lynx seems to float on top of the snow, while the coyote sinks in. This provides lynx with a competitive edge over other predators in deep snow.