New Tech: Survey Drones

USGS scientist and sUAS pilot Leanne Hanson holding the Raven A. USGS photo.

Call it a remote-controlled helicopter and it sounds like a toy. Call it a drone, and you know it is battle tested.

A drone helicopter, much like the ones used by the military, is being employed by Phil Groves, a wildlife biologist with the Idaho Power Company to survey for salmon redds, says an article in the Idaho Statesman. The US Geological Survey also uses them in Idaho to survey pygmy rabbits, it says.

The use of drones had been strictly limited by the FAA, the article says, but Congress recently introduced a law that will allow commercial uses by September 30, 2015.

In the article Groves says that the drones are much safer than conducting the surveys by helicopter. He was inspired to use the drone by the death of two fisheries colleagues in the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Read the entire article in the Idaho Statesman, here.

Of course, this isn’t the first time drones have been used to survey wildlife.
Read about the US Geological Survey’s work with drones and sandhill crane monitoring, here. (Includes links to more info.)
Read about drones in the tropics in Yale Environment 360, here.
Read about a seabird survey on the Rocky Mountain Tracking, Inc. blog, here.

Photo courtesy US Geological Survey

Facebook for Bears

In Incline Village, Nevada, on Lake Tahoe, a group has created a Facebook page to post photos of local businesses who leave their garbage bins unlocked. The town had been plagued by bears earlier this year, leading to the controversial killing of one bear. The Facebook group believes that the unsecured dumpsters were the main thing that were attracting the bears into town.

Apparently, the idea has worked, and the page is now more focused on stopping a local bear hunt and on residential garbage lapses. A status message on the page says that local businesses have not protested or given the group a hard time about the public shaming.

Here’s the Associated Press story, as it appeared in the Deseret News (which, yes, is in Utah, but the story is the same no matter what publication you read it in).

Here’s the background on the large, unstoppable bear that was creating havoc earlier this year, again from the AP, as posted by Fox40.

And finally, here’s the Lake Tahoe Wall of Shame Facebook page. 1,013 people liked it when this item was posted.

Will public shaming work for your unsecured garbage problem? The fact that this is a citizens’ group, and not an government entity makes all the difference, I think. I’m actually surprised that this worked at all, but all the more power to this group for solving the problem quickly and with seemingly few hard feelings.

Photo: Just a random black bear, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

“Smart” Collars Reveal Wildlife Secrets

A new type of wildlife tracking collar, using technology similar to a smart phone’s, will allow biologists and other wildlife managers access to the most intimate details of an animal’s life. However, the article quickly goes beyond the benefit this collar would be for wildlife research, and into the realm of managing human-animal interactions.
For example, the collar can tell scientists how long it’s been since a mountain lion has eaten, and if that mountain lion has entered a suburban neighborhood, allowing them to alert residents.
The New York Times article on the new technology ends with a snappy quote about being able to make a Facebook page for each animal, but it does not address any of the ethical or philosophical questions these collars raise.Which animals will be tagged? All animals in a region? Only those that have caused trouble before? Will new hunting regulations be created for these knowable, findable animals?

No news on either a timeline or a price tag is included in the article.

Read the story here.

Citizen Science: There’s an app for that

The iPhone may have been invented in the USA, but it’s the British who are on the cutting edge of using smartphone technology in citizen science. Most recently, the Zoological Society of London and the Bat Conservation Trust introduced iBats, a smartphone app. The app is a tool for bat surveys, which when used with an ultrasonic microphone, replaces the bat detector + recorder + GPS car-top set up covered here at State Wildlife Research News a few months ago.

There is a blissfully clear explanation of the technology, the $249 ultrasonic microphone and the program in John Platt’s post on the Scientific American Extinction Countdown blog.

You can find the Indicator Bats Program (aka iBat) Web site here.

But the bat survey app is not the only game in town. The UK’s Mammals in Roads project, conducted by the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species has also gotten “smart,” with its own iPhone app that lets citizen scientists snap a photo of road kill and automatically record its location using the device’s internal GPS.

Read more about the project from our friends at Wildlife News. (Not related. Remember, they are in the UK.)

There are also many apps out there that serve as electronic field guides. Some of them include an information-collection aspect, which where things get a little complicated. Is it a field guide? Is it a citizen science tool? Take Networked Organisms and Habitats (NOAH) for example. It lets you identify plants and animals, and upload the location into a database. Read more about NOAH on its Web site. (This link goes to the news coverage page so you can read what the press has had to say.) We’ll have more on this project later.

Then there is LeafView, and LeafSnap, which appear to be the same project under different names. It IDs plants using face recognition technology. Early articles on the project, including this article on planetgreen.comĀ  mentioned a citizen science component, including an on-line herbarium. This New York Times article also mentions an app for identifying dolphins in Florida. In its LeafSnap incarnation, it is available to download now for iPhone and iPad. Think of the possibilities. The journal Science covered the story.

Find the contact info for botanists, ecologists and tree experts who want to volunteer with the program on LeafSnap’s About page.

Where does this leave wildlife biologists that would like to empower citizen scientists with smartphone technology? This BBC article tries to sum it all up, but it zigs and zags and I’ve got to wonder if the article just tries to cover too much territory.

The answer seems to be this: the technology is available. What is needed is funding, time, and the willingness to go large with an app that requires a $250 microphone.

Alaska says: Please don’t taze the bears

The State of Alaska has made it illegal for the public to use a Taser on wildlife. The stated fear is “catch and release” hunting — that someone would stun a moose or a bear long enough for a photo op, then release the animal, an article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

The Taser X3W

You might think that the inevitable injury to the “hunter” would nip this practice faster than any law would, but with yet another Jackass movie coming out in a few months, what more proof do you need that some people never learn?

The Alaska law seems wiser with the knowledge that Taser International recently introduced the Taser X3W Wildlife Electronic Control Device, a stun gun specifically designed for wildlife management. (The company’s press release for the product is here.)

It can, and has been, used to haze bears, but it can also be used in place of tranquilizer darts under certain conditions. One suggested use is to stun an animal so that a tranquilizer can be injected more accurately. Another use is to stun the animal briefly (15 seconds is one time I saw), for quick actions like taking a chicken feeder off a moose’s head. (As mentioned in the newspaper article.)

The magazine Wildlife Professional has a review of the use of stun guns on wildlife in its current issue. You can read it here. That article contains a link to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s operating procedures for stun guns.

Photo: TASER International