Tips for using trail cameras in the school forest are provided by Chris Hanson, coordinator at Dean Makey School Forest (Baxter), and Karl Kaufmann, former coordinator at Pillager School Forest (Pillager).
- Show students how to set up and maintain cameras so they can do it on their own throughout the year.
- Use rechargeable batteries.
- Number each camera and record its location with GPS.
Watch for good deals. Chris bought multiple cameras locally when they went on sale using money from a mini-grant. Karl used his School Forest and greenhouse funds to purchase multiple cameras.
- Hang the camera where it's less noticeable and away from high-use areas.
- Consider using a stool or short ladder to hang it out of reach.
- Tag the camera as "student or school project" to discourage vandalism.
- If you're using a specific focal point (bait, scent post, etc.) make sure it's centered in the frame.
- For general photos, angle the camera 45° down a trail for a wider view and faster trigger time.
- Trim vegetation around the camera for a clear view.
- Face the camera north to reduce sun glare (straight south is the next best).
- "Bait" the cameras to increase critter visits. Chris notes it makes a difference but be thoughtful—this set-up is unnatural. Karl might tack a large chunk of deer hide up on a tree. It can attract deer, coyotes, wolves, fisher, and other critters.
- Post cameras in different areas to study how wildlife uses them: mature hardwoods, conifer forests, young stands, wetland, etc.
- Place cameras to face grouse drumming logs. It often captures other animals that come to check out the same logs.
- Trail cameras likely take other data such as temperature, moon phase, date, and time. Students can use that information to analyze and look for correlations with wildlife observations.
- Allow students to collect trail cam data to design study around observations made in the school forest. Students develop a question/hypothesis, design a study around data, collect data, and present a real-world theory.
- Lesson plans
- Trail cam project (for teachers)
- Trail cam student worksheet (middle school)
- Trail cam placement lesson (high school)
- Taking Action Opportunities curriculum provides activities, lessons, and discusses what you need to get started. The TAO curriculum was developed by the University of Minnesota’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, Minnesota Project WILD, Afton State Park, and Afton-Lakeland Elementary School.