Camera traps are providing us with a benchmark for wildlife activity, as well as for the amount and types of human access we have on the land. The cameras help us to adjust the need for public enjoyment of the land with resource protection and to remain vigilant about wildlife health, abundance, and activity.– Dr. Jutta Burger, IRC Senior Field Ecologist
To monitor the health, movements and populations of wildlife on the Natural Landmarks, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy has placed a network of strategically located heat- and motion-triggered remote cameras throughout the wildlands. Wildlife activity patterns change in response to season, water availability, fire, and levels of authorized and unauthorized human access. Animals such as deer, mountain lions and bobcats are especially sensitive to these natural and human changes. IRC tracks seasonal changes in patterns of wildlife activity as part of comprehensive, ongoing efforts to ensure the continued maintenance of populations.
These hidden so-called “camera traps” provide information about the movement and habits of species such as bobcats and mountain lions, that would be virtually impossible to monitor by observation. Trained volunteers check the camera traps, replace batteries and download the digital photos onto computers for analysis. The traps help IRC document the animals’ responses to disturbance, such as human activity, and make informed, scientifically based decisions about levels of public access and other management actions. In addition, the camera trap network was vital in monitoring the response of many animals to the 2007 Santiago Fire. The cameras even captured photos of the fire’s spread.
To date, IRC and volunteers have collected more than 30,000 photos of everything from skunks to golden eagles, along with valuable information about unauthorized human access and destructive behavior that disturbs wildlife or increases fire risk. The latter information is turned over to partners in local law enforcement agencies.
Camera traps even can document injuries or diseases that animals might have. After the Santiago Fire, for example, several deer were observed with coats that had been singed by the flames. Fortunately, none of the animals were permanently injured.
Information from the Wildlife Monitoring Project is shared with management partners and other researchers, including United States Geological Survey (USGS) biologists, to assist with their own studies. In combination with other monitoring programs, the IRC camera traps have been critical for estimating regional numbers of species that are otherwise very difficult to monitor. These include bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, mountain lions and deer.