Wasatch Wildlife Watch looks to balance nature and development
by Mark Monette
According to Austin Green, the Central Wasatch Range (CWR) in northeastern Utah represents an island-like oasis for wildlife, separating communities of animals from surrounding deserts and urban sprawl. This habitat is a contributing factor to Utah’s rank amongst the highest in the nation in both total biodiversity and number of endemic species found nowhere else in the world. However, the Salt Lake Valley, which borders the CWR, is home to one of the fastest growing populations in the United States. In addition, the CWR draws in approximately nine million visitors every year, nearly double all five of Utah’s national parks combined.
Amidst the increasing pressure from human population growth, development, and recreational tourism, the CWR and its rich wildlife community may be in jeopardy. Under the guidance of Austin Green, so far over 120 citizen scientists have used motion and heat-activated cameras to fill data gaps that will help local stakeholders understand how urban development and human recreation affect wildlife populations and habitat.
”What we are doing through Wasatch Wildlife Watch,” Austin said, “is setting up camera traps to monitor where animals are going, how many animals there are, what types of habitats they use. What we really want to look at is can we identify where wildlife are negatively affected by human activity or human recreational activity, and where they’re also maybe not as negatively affected.”
The Bulldog Press staff and the zoology classes at Judge helped Austin identify some of the nearly one million photos taken by the cameras this past year.
“The students here at Judge are helping us look through these photos,” Austin said. “They’re helping us identify what they see in the camera. And every single time they click ‘identify’ on their computer, they’re sending a data record to our data sheet and basically getting us one step closer to our goal.”