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From backyard to backcountry: student studies Missoula wildlife

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In a study that involves tracking wildlife activity in and around Missoula, a Ph.D. student identified a surprising number of animals using trail cameras.

In May 2019, Chris Hansen, a Ph.D. candidate in the wildlife biology program, started a study to identify the impacts of urbanization and housing development on mammal communities. The study involved setting up 30 trail cameras in random locations in and around the city. Hansen expects to complete the study in fall  2020.

Hansen said it’s common to capture photos of whitetail deer, squirrels and raccoons in town, and of course, an occasional human. However, his cameras have captured images of bears, mountain lions and wolves on the outskirts of town. While the presence of these animals doesn’t surprise him, Hansen said he is always surprised by the number of animals he captures on camera.  

“Just about every camera I put out has some wild mammal on it,” he said. 

The camouflaged, tissue box-sized cameras take a series of images when they identify movement or body heat. Hanson studies suburban, exurban, rural and wild areas. He tries to place cameras in yards, parks and larger natural areas to track which species travel through each environment. He also tracks the prevalence of some animals in each environment. 

This summer, Hansen set up cameras in roughly 150 locations. He anticipates he will set out a similar number next year. 

Hansen plans to analyze the data and make conclusions based on these photos at the end of the study.