Winter Wildlife Movements in the North Fork Valley
by Meg Hahr
North Fork residents are used to seeing slow moving vehicles (usually shiny new rental cars or expensive S.U.V.'s bearing license plates from other states or counties) trying to negotiate the North Fork Road in summer. Well, this winter, a few of you may have already noticed a couple of seasoned looking 4-wheel drive vehicles bearing local tags chugging along the North Fork Road at impossibly slow speeds. Most of you have probably been wondering how anyone from Flathead County could possibly be that timid even considering the usually rough conditions of the road in winter. Well, in case you've been curious (or annoyed), here's the explanation. This winter, two wildlife researchers, Meg Hahr from West Glacier and Amy Edmonds from the North Fork, are conducting an ecological assessment of the North Fork Road corridor (from Canyon Creek to the border) and their main mode of travel is by car and truck. Hahr and Edmonds spend from 3-4 days a week cruising the North Fork Road in their personal vehicles looking for tracks left in the snow by wildlife. After their weekly road surveys are completed, the researchers put on their skis to conduct track surveys along forest roads and trails up the valley's side drainages.
According to Meg Hahr, the project coordinator, she and Edmonds are hoping to get a better idea of winter wildlife use of the North Fork Valley especially in relation to the North Fork Road. Several long-term studies have looked at the Valley's large mammals such as wolves, grizzly bears, coyotes, mountain lions, elk, moose and deer. Very little is known about some of the other species in the area, including lynx, fisher, wolverine, marten, mink, and bobcat. "Winter track surveys will hopefully give us a clearer picture of the areas that wildlife frequent in the winter. Surveys along the road will also show us the extent to which these species use the road corridor and where they cross the road. We hope that our surveys will enable us to identify specific areas or landscape features that are typically associated with wildlife road crossings. These areas could be important linkage zones between wildlife populations in Glacier Park and the Whitefish Range," says Hahr.
Hahr and Edmonds have already documented tracks left by wolves, lynx, marten, bobcat, coyote, elk deer and moose. Some animals, especially deer, coyote and snowshoe hare, appear to spend a great deal of time in the road corridor foraging along the forest's edge or taking advantage of the easy
traveling on the plowed road. Other species such as bobcats, elk and moose tend to cross the road without meandering along the edge or
traveling on the road. According to Hahr, "Our project is really very simple and our methods are completely non-invasive. We are recording sign left by animals and very rarely ever see the animal that left the sign so we create minimal disturbance to the critters we are studying. Snow tracking can be a very effective method for monitoring wildlife populations and collecting new information on a species' distribution and habitat use. We are really hoping that the information we gather this winter will be of use to local land owner's and land managers, and welcome any questions or sightings reports anyone may have for us."
Funding and additional support for the project is being provided by Wild Things Unlimited, a Bozeman, MT based non-profit wildlife research and educational organization that has conducted carnivore surveys in the greater
Yellowstone Ecosystem in partnership with the Gallatin National Forest since 1998. For more information, Meg Hahr can be contacted at P.O. Box 374, West Glacier, MT 59936, 888-5585, or