Minnesotans who watch nature closely have been using a relatively new tool to spy on wildlife: trail cameras. We know from our readers' letters, calls, and photographs that they are excited about these remote, automated, motion-triggered cameras, sometimes called camera traps, and the wildlife they so candidly "capture" in digital photos. People are using trail cams in many different ways, but the common reaction to a successful shot is surprise and enlightenment: Look what is living here among us. Bobcats at the cabin. Coyotes at the farm. A bear—in the driveway!
Wildlife managers and field biologists are using trail cameras in their work, too. DNR furbearer specialist Jason Abraham's story "Counting on Cameras" shows how scientists are using photos from remote cams to augment the longstanding method of track surveys for 14 of the state's common carnivores. Elusive and mostly nocturnal, these creatures are naturally hard to spot even by sharp-eyed trackers. Suddenly trail cams are bringing their locations and sometimes their behavior into new light. The cams may even one day replace track surveys as the basis for DNR measures of wildlife abundance.
Trail cameras are part of a virtual wave of high-tech advances that are opening up new perspectives on the wild world. It's a common theme here in the pages of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. In recent years, the magazine has covered a solar-powered robotic glider that scans Lake Superior for native fish, dye tracing that uses gas chromatography to track the mysterious path of underground water, and telemetry tracking projects galore.
In these projects, tiny radio or satellite transmitters are glued to turtle shells, affixed to birds or mammals via small backpacks, inserted under the skin of fish, or held in sturdy collars worn by bigger animals such as wolves, bears, elk, and moose. Transmitters are getting ever smaller, more sophisticated in what they can measure, and more durable in what they can withstand. As they ride along with wildlife, they allow researchers to follow the animal's journey and learn from it. Transmitters have told us how deep loons dive for food, how far sturgeon roam in river systems, and where golden eagles fly to breed and winter, among many other things.
High tech can help inform us about not just the world as it is, but also the world as it might be. In "Seeing the Future," writer Amanda Kueper shows how federal scientists at the SPRUCE project in northern Minnesota are simulating the effects of projected climate change on a forested peat bog, then meticulously measuring and analyzing those effects using advanced instruments. Peatlands, which have naturally and efficiently stored carbon for centuries, could under warmer conditions release this carbon in the form of "greenhouse gases" that fuel further warming. The peatlands, part of Minnesota's rich mosaic of landscapes, could also undergo dramatic changes. It's important work with sobering implications.
From trail cams to elaborate experiments, technology is helping open our eyes to what's happening in the natural world. How will we use this flood of information from these modern marvels we've created? I hope we harness it to preserve wild things, wild landscapes, and our own place in the whole grand, complicated scheme.
Keith Goetzman, acting editor