for National Geographic News
To our earliest ancestors, tracking animals was important for basic
survival. But the skill has almost disappeared in the modern age of
That may be about to change, thanks to a unique data-gathering tool recently tested in Idaho's wolf country.
CyberTracker is a high-tech instrument that allows scientists, conservationists, and nature enthusiasts to gather enormous amounts of data about an area, plot their findings quickly and accurately, and upload the information into a computer for further use or analysis.
Master trackers from around the country gathered in Idaho's Frank Church Wilderness of No Return in late August to test the new conservation tool by using it to track wolves.
The trackers came from all walks of lifea chemical engineer, a nurse, teachers of environmental courses, students. They ranged in age and experience from a home-schooled 17-year-old to grandparents.
Most had been trained as trackers by Jon Young, founder of theWilderness Awareness School in Duvall, Washington.
"You have to think of tracking as story-telling," said Young. "One piece of evidence isn't going to tell you enough, but if you keep looking, it's like finding the pieces of a puzzle and putting them together to tell a story."
On the Trail
The Bear Valley drainage area where the teams conducted an ecological survey is home to the Landmark pack of wolves, one of several packs that were reintroduced in Idaho beginning in 1996. Little is known about the current status of the Landmark pack.
Only one wolf in the Landmark pack has a radio collar. The device enables wildlife managers to monitor the pack's whereabouts by air twice a month all year long. During the summer, ground crews also conduct limited surveys on the ground.
The data collected by those who participated in the pilot program last summer will be useful to the Wolf Recovery Program, which is sponsored by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and run by the Nez Perce tribe of Native Americans.
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