Marin County Parks and Open Space Department

Marin Wildlife Picture Index Project

Information Contact | Project Subscription Information | Frequently Asked Questions

Where the Wild Things Are…

Marin’s public parklands—whether owned and managed by local, state, or federal agencies—are some of the most ecologically diverse and unique landscapes in the world. Many serve as the last refuges and essential habitat for populations of native plants and animals. While much of our native flora and fauna thrive in our expansive open spaces, environmental and human-caused pressures can still cause harm and threaten their survival.

Marin’s public land management agencies have done an exemplary job inventorying their plant communities in order to inform land management decision making. Unfortunately, there is a lack of reliable, comprehensive wildlife data in Marin because of the challenges of wildlife data collection. With such data, land managers would be better able to understand trends in population, biodiversity, and wildlife occupancy, and could make management decisions and recommendations accordingly. Without such data, land managers are unable to assess wildlife population health or detect when wildlife populations are at risk.

Wildlife Monitoring Challenges

In the past, wildlife data collection has been difficult. Protocols involve long hours in the field, and trapping or tracking animals, which can be dangerous to both humans and wild animals. While this process is necessary for some rare and endangered species, it remains costly and provides information about only one species. Though this type of information is still valuable, what is really needed is comprehensive information from multiple levels of the food-chain. The only way to reliably measure trends in biodiversity and ecosystem health is to gather data across the diverse array of wildlife species. What makes this kind of monitoring difficult is that different groups of wildlife species require different monitoring techniques, and larger animals have huge home ranges and may wander far from sampling points, for long periods of time. Any effective attempt at monitoring the diversity of wildlife must avoid bias towards individual groups of animals, and be conducted over a large geographic area.

The Wildlife Picture Index

A solution to the difficulties surrounding wildlife monitoring has evolved over time as new technologies have emerged and sampling techniques have been refined in the world of conservation biology. The Wildlife Picture Index Project (WPI) is internationally used and recognized as a method of passively collecting reliable, accurate, and rigorous wildlife data across many levels of the food chain on the landscape scale.

The WPI utilizes motion-activated wildlife cameras that are positioned along a grid at regular intervals across a large area. The grid provides non-biased sampling locations (locations chosen with impartiality), the regular intervals provide a way to derive frequency measures, and the photographs provide easy ways to identify the species, numbers of individuals, and the date, time, and location of activities. With this data, land managers will be able to establish baseline population figures, identify wildlife “hotspots” and crucial corridors for movement, and begin to assess trends in populations. In the long run, the goal is to understand wildlife populations well enough to identify what healthy populations look like, identify early signals of distress, and avoid population declines.

The WPI Comes to California

The WPI has been used internationally in tropical areas (Indonesia) and vast grasslands (Mongolia). Nearer to home, it is being applied in the Pepperwood Preserve in Sonoma County, with excellent results.

Here in Marin, a partnership of four public agencies—Marin County Parks, Marin Municipal Water District, California State Parks, and the National Park Service - began collecting data as part of a One Tam initiative using the WPI. The MCOSD Board of Directors approved the Open Space District's portion of the WPI project on September 9, 2014 (see page 12, item 16f). View minutes and webcasts from meetings on the MCOSD Board of Directors agendas and minutes webpage.

Science in Our Backyards

One of the strengths of the WPI method is that it collects data passively, without interfering with the normal patterns of wildlife. Another great advantage is that the project is easy to maintain, and the data (photographs) are easy to process.

The One Tam partners are currently working with "Community Scientists" to help maintain the wildlife cameras and process photos. Trained volunteers assist staff as they hike to some of the most remote locations in Marin to replace camera batteries and download photos. We also regularly host opportunities to help categorize and process the wildlife photos acquired from the cameras.

If you think you would like to be involved as a volunteer, contact Rosa Schneider at 415-945-1495.

For any questions regarding Marin County Parks role in the project, contact Mischon Martin at (415) 473-2056.


FAQs

What is the Wildlife Picture Index?

The Wildlife Picture Index Project (WPI) is an innovative method combining photos from wildlife cameras and other environmental data that enables land managers to learn about the presence of wildlife and, ultimately, assess the success of efforts to protect wildlife species diversity and populations. The WPI, used internationally and locally, is now being utilized in Marin as a OneTam initiative to collect wildlife data on a large scale.


What is a "Wildlife Camera"?

A wildlife camera is a stationary, weatherproof, motion-activated camera that can be left outside for long periods of time. Wildlife cameras do not emit light or use a flash, and therefore are able to gather images without disturbing wildlife. Cameras operate on rechargeable batteries and record photographs onto memory cards.


What is the Purpose of the Project?

The purpose of this project is to acquire statistically-viable wildlife data on the landscape scale. While we are aware of many of the species that occupy our lands (mountain lions, coyotes, badgers, etc.), most of the information we have is anecdotal, and we do not understand abundance or extent of use by these species or how these animals move about and utilize our lands at different times of the year.


How Will Data from this Project be Used?

Understanding trends and patterns in wildlife use and behavior is essential to taking better care of our lands. The more we understand wildlife needs, the better we will be able to direct our resources toward enhancing and stabilizing wildlife habitats for the long-term. This project will enhance our understanding of wildlife occupancy and tier off of past wildlife studies that have been done in the region. This information is essential as Parks acquires new preserves, and continues to stewards Marin’s Open Spaces.


Will Photographs Taken by these Cameras be Used for Enforcement Purposes?

No. Images caught on camera will NOT be used for enforcement purposes. The purpose of this project is strictly to learn more about wildlife activity on Open Space.


How is the Project Arranged?

The cameras in this project are placed in two different arrangements. Most of the cameras are arranged in a grid-based system, which places cameras at regular intervals across the landscape. This grid system provides a non-biased sampling arrangement that allows us to determine the occupancy and frequency of wildlife in different areas. The second camera arrangement has cameras placed at regular intervals along select trails in certain areas. Because wildlife use trails and corridors much like we do, these cameras will be able to assess how wildlife species are using trails to move across the land.


Where are the Cameras Located?

Cameras are placed at regular intervals across the Lagunitas Creek Watershed on land owned by Marin County Parks, Marin Municipal Water District, California State Parks, and the National Park Service. As a result of this landscape scale array, we will be able to analyze large-scale trends in wildlife occupancy.


Is Marin County Parks the only Agency doing this?

No. The Wildlife Picture Index project protocol is being used internationally with great success. Here in California, the protocol was first used in Sonoma County, and is now being used as part of a regional wildlife data collection process being conducted through a partnership between several different agencies (OneTam).


How Can I Learn about the Results?

We are currently developing a web page for the project, which will be located on the OneTam website (onetam.org). We will post updates on the project, and the latest and best wildlife photos that we capture. Interim and final reports will be produced, and this information will be publicly available.


Can I be Involved?

Yes! This is a community science project in that we rely on volunteers to help us process the many photos captured by these cameras. We hold training sessions where volunteers learn about the project, how to identify mammals in the photos, and how to catalog the photos. Volunteer field assistants also help us service cameras at regular intervals. This involves working with staff to locate cameras, change out batteries, and recover memory cards. Visit onetam.org for specific volunteer opportunities, or contact Rosa Schneider at 415-945-1495. 

Finally, it is extremely important that these cameras remain intact and in place for the duration of the project so that we can collect good data. Please ask your friends and neighbors to help us take care of these cameras!