This winter we are working with Wild Things Unlimited, the Montana Wilderness Association, the Helena National Forest, and Defenders of Wildlife to organize a cadre of volunteer backcountry scientists to help Wild Things Unlimited in their efforts to survey wildlife on the east side of the Continental Divide in Montana. The goal for the project is to document lynx and wolverine – 2 species that are extremely rare in the lower 48 and closely tied to wild and wintery landscapes – as well as other forest carnivores. The area where we will be working, the Little Prickly Pear Creek drainage on the Helena National Forest is just over the Divide from where WTU has previously documented wolverine and lynx but little is known about how forest carnivores use this particular area. In addition, while most of the Helena National Forest has a complete – winter and summer – travel plan, this area was omitted from winter travel planning. We hope that the information gathered through this project will help the Helena National Forest determine how to best manage this area in all seasons.

We kicked off the Little Prickly Pear Backcountry Scientist project this past weekend with a workshop and training session in Helena MT, led by Wild Things Unlimited and co-sponsored by the Montana Wilderness Association. 68 people showed up on Friday night to learn about winter wildlife tracking and we had to expand our Saturday field day to accommodate everybody who wanted to attend. On Saturday 35 of us traveled to the Little Prickly Pear area for a hands-on, snowshoes on the ground, lesson in wildlife tracking. After splitting into small groups we spread out across the study area and went to work. By the end of the day we’d documented fresh wolverine tracks in 3 different drainages and found a snowshoe hare that had been killed by a wolverine along with an elk carcass that a wolverine had scavenged upon. Wolverine scat collected at the elk carcass will potentially yield valuable DNA that can help scientists to better understand this elusive carnivore. In addition, the groups found coyote, red fox, mountain lion, grouse, snowshoe hare, squirrel, deer, elk, weasel, and marten tracks, and a mule deer that had been killed by a mountain lion. After finding so much in just one day all of the workshop participants were excited to volunteer as backcountry scientists for the rest of the winter. All in all, the day was a smashing success.

If you live in Montana and are interested in attending our next training workshop, we will be hosting another on February 6 and 7 in Helena. You can find out more and sign up to attend on the Montana Wilderness Association website. Or, email Hilary Eisen at