Ever seen bighorn sheep at Bobcat Ridge Natural Areas near Masonville? How about a mountain lion, black bear, wild turkey, elk, black colored red fox or even the animal after which the city of Fort Collins-managed property was named?
The 2,600-acre foothills natural area provides room to roam for those wildlife as well as many more and the city can prove it.
Eight heat- and motion-activated cameras – four on-trail and four off-trail – have been clicking snapshots of wildlife that use the area over the past year as part of a cooperative effort between the city of Fort Collins Natural Areas, Rocky Mountain Cat Conservancy and Rocky Mountain High School called Cameras, Communities and Conservation. The cameras were initially set up for a research project done by two honors students from Colorado State University in June of 2009.
According to Deborah Price, Bobcat Ridge Natural Area educator, when the research was completed at the end of the summer, Rocky Mountain Cat Conservancy took over ownership of the cameras to help determine wildlife usage of the area, which has surprised officials.
“We have captured thousands of remarkable photos of a variety of species, but you rarely see many of these when you visit Bobcat Ridge,” Price said, noting the camera have captured 15 types of wildlife. “We’ve learned about species that we did not know were there, including bighorn sheep, western spotted skunk, black colored red fox and Abert’s squirrel. We have noticed that many of the animals walk right on the trail, usually at night when people aren’t there, or sometimes right before or after a group of people have been there. The wildlife apparently do very well there, like the living arrangements and avoid their human neighbors as much as possible.”
The photos show wildlife doing all sorts of things. One shows a bobcat walking along with what appears to be a bird in its mouth. Another shows two buck deer locking antlers. Another shows a mule deer doe seemingly mugging for the camera. Another shows two black bears – one black the other cinnamon – walking along the trail. Another shows a herd of elk bedding down with a big bull elk right next to the camera. There even is a shot of a hummingbird hovering in front of the camera.
“Some of the animals are very curious about the cameras and will come up and look right into them, or even lick the lens,” Price said.
The Cat Conservancy has helped provide training for city volunteers and high school students to monitor the cameras. Its mission is to promote wild cat conservation through research and community stewardship. It works within Cat Action Treasury, a nonprofit fund for the conservation of wild cats in their natural habitats.
One of the organization’s main focus is education. In a pilot project, it worked with students from Estes Park High School to monitor some of the cameras in Rocky Mountain National Park during a similar study. Price said the Fort Collins program is modeled after that. She said one of the Rocky Mountain High School teachers involved with the project is Carol Seemuller, who also is a Master Naturalist with the city. Seemuller and fellow teacher Scott Kemp arrange for students to visit Bobcat Ridge once a month to check the cameras. Price said the students do this on their own time.