Rolling, Wisconsin, USA

Blayne Zeise, Snapshot Wisconsin
Jennifer Stenglein, Snapshot Wisconsin, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, United States Fish and Wildlife Service Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program

At 169.639 square kilometres, the US state of Wisconsin is nearly half as big as Germany and about twelve times larger than Switzerland. Almost half of its territory is covered by forest. Here, the volunteer-based research project Snapshot Wisconsin runs a state-wide network of trail cameras.

Snapshot Wisconsin’s cameras generate a reliable data stream to monitor wildlife populations. Combined, the data points help researchers understand patterns in the distribution of species as well as activity patterns within a day and throughout the year.

Trail cameras are a cost-efficient method to gather large spatial and temporal datasets. However, the classification of this data is very time-consuming. That’s why Snapshot Wisconsin relies on the help of more than 1,800 volunteers: These citizen scientists are responsible for operating over 2,000 wildlife cameras, uploading the images, and assisting in their classification. Since 2015, more than 62 million photos have been added to the database.

Blayne Zeise is one of these volunteers. When he was asked to set up and monitor a camera for Triggered by Motion, he picked the location based on two factors. Firstly, it had to be accessible via a short hike since Blayne had to check up on the camera frequently to retrieve data and change the batteries. Secondly, he knew the spot would be suitable because of its high biodiversity.

Indeed, Blayne’s camera recorded lots of wildlife. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and raccoons (Procyon lotor) were filmed frequently. Gray (Sciurus carolinensis) and red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris), chipmunks (Neotamias minimus), ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), and coyotes (Canis latrans) appear on the footage occasionally, and seldom domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), pileated woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus), blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata), bobcats (Lynx rufus) and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) make an appearance. Even long-tailed weasels (Neogale frenata), flying squirrels (Pteromyini) and American black bears (Ursus americanus) were recorded.

a bear spotted by Snapshot Wisconsin

However, some important species are missing in the footage, although other trail cameras in the Snapshot Wisconsin project have captured them before. One of them is the →Whooping crane (Grus americana), which is endangered globally because of reduced wetland habitats and overhunting in the 19th century. Through many conservation efforts and breeding programs, their populations have survived extinction throughout the last century, but they are still considered endangered.

The camera trap footage that Blayne and the other volunteers help collect and classify gives the research staff at Snapshot Wisconsin very powerful data for understanding the dynamics of wildlife populations. Ultimately, it enables researchers and policy makers making informed decisions regarding wildlife management. This is what makes Snapshot Wisconsin a truly people-powered project.