Sierra Nevada Carnivore Monitoring

I am excited to announce that I will be joining the Sierra Nevada Carnivore Monitoring Project this summer in central California! I will be working for the US Forest Service on the long term program assessing the status and trend of the Pacific fisher (Martes pennanti) and the American marten (Martes americana). The study takes place in the beautiful Sierra and Sequoia National Forests and involves conducting systematic surveys throughout the region to estimate habitat use by the fisher and the marten, and to detect declines in each species over a ten year monitoring period. A combination of noninvasive techniques- hair snares, camera traps, and track plates- are used for this study to detect animal presence and monitor wildlife genetics. The project monitors population trend and expansion via presence/absence surveys and using microsatellite allele frequencies for genetic monitoring.

Jody Tucker of the University of Montana is currently running this project for her PhD, and I am excited to continue with Montana connections as I work towards graduate school. Most people unfamiliar with the field of wildlife research are surprised to find out that graduate school is not as simple as undergraduate school- one does not generally apply to a university, get accepted, and then join a lab with an available project. It is entirely the opposite, with everything being contingent upon funding, research interests of both professor and student, availability, and competition.

In the meantime, I am stoked to go to California and study the marten and the fisher, both of the weasel family. The fisher is a large terrestrial mustelid (related to the wolverine and the second largest in the family). It is not, contrary to it's name, a hunter of fish, nor does it live on the ocean. Shortly put, fishers live in dense canopy forests, are viscous and adept hunters, and have historically been heavily trapped for their fur. Fishers are of particular conservation interest in California because the remaining Sierra Nevada population is small and geographically isolated, and as a result this carnivore, slightly larger than a domestic cat, is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act in the West.

The marten is the third smallest member of the weasel family and is a ferret-sized carnivore considered a sensitive species by the Forest Service. Like the fisher, martens prefer old-growth forests, and logging is largely responsible for their habitat loss and population decline, as new-growth forests do not provide the canopy cover and habitat requirements for populations to thrive. My experience with martens is that they are capable of stealing bait no matter how securely you affix the meat to the tree, but they are also fantastic hunters and very curious animals.

Here is a link to view my marten encounter from Washington:

Curious, Thieving Marten

I can't wait to get out there and meet the crew! I'm also awaiting the results of a few other applications, so more updates to follow. Additionally, my hip recovery is almost entirely complete- woo hoo! Thanks for following- be sure to share with friends and family and spread the message about wildlife research and conservation.

For more information on the Sierra Nevada Carnivore Monitoring Project, visit:

California Dreamin'
Photo by M. Maly
Shenandoah National Park