NoCal DFG game camera study


Mar 11, 2001
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A picture is, just bear-ly, worth a thousand words

Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle

April 7, 2002

In the dead quiet of a Northern California wildland, 18 sensor- activated cameras have been capturing the secrets of wildlife in the past two months.

The film from these cameras was retrieved late this past week, a trip that started as a mystery adventure and ended with surprises and answers.

At Rogers Flat on the North Fork Feather River, deep in Plumas National Forest, a helicopter picked up Mike Fry, senior wildlife biologist for PG&E, and associate Jon Tremayne. From there, it was a short but exhilarating ride with a 4,000-foot climb in 15 minutes to the shore of Bucks Lake, cut off from civilization for months since the onset of winter and heavy snow in December.

Tremayne explained that as part of its federal license to run a hydro- electric project on Bucks Creek and the rest of the Feather River system, PG&E is required to conduct a late-winter wildlife survey using sensor cameras and provide it to the Forest Service.

"You never know what the cameras will pick up until you see the film," Tremayne said. "Every roll of film is like a mystery being solved."

The purpose of the study is to try to find four target species that are in low numbers and are considered to be "Forest Service sensitive" -- the Pacific fisher, pine marten, wolverine and Sierra red fox. But other surprises become apparent when the cameras click.

One crazy rumor that won't go away is that one of the 18 cameras captured a shot of a Bigfoot last year. Tremayne and Fry both laugh every time they hear this.

"Bigfoot?" Tremayne said with a roar. "Now that is one picture I would like to see."

Maybe on this trip, eh?

The helicopter landed at the earthen dam at Bucks Lake, set at an elevation of 5,200 feet, about 25 snowbound miles from Quicy, the nearest town. The lake is still iced over, but thinning and tinted blue along the shore, and circled with four feet of lumpy snow that looks like mashed potatoes, softened by the past week's warm temperatures. To keep from sinking into the snow with every step, everybody strapped on snowshoes.

From the dam, it was about a half-mile slog to the camera station, tracing the perimeter of the lake and across a few islets. Fry, a wildlife biologist for 25 years, showed how he had set up the camera, sensor and two baits at each station.

The baits were salmon (provided by a fish hatchery) that had been placed in burlap sacks and wrapped in chicken wire, then hung eight feet in the air from a tree. Fry appeared alarmed, then explained, "One of them is missing. Something got it."

From an adjacent tree he had placed a device that was like a radar gun, which produced an infra-red beam pointed in an area in front of the bait. From another tree, a flash camera had been fixed and wired. The camera was activated by a sensor wired to the source of the infra-red beam. When an animal crossed the beam, a picture instantly was taken.

Like Tremayne said, you never know what you are going to get.

The study is done during late winter in snow conditions, Fry explained, because most bears are still in hibernation, allowing other wildlife a shot at the goodies.

"In summer, all you would get is one bear picture after another."

On Friday morning, the first pictures became available. It was a glimpse into a secret world. Who stole the missing salmon?

In the first rolls Fry reviewed, there were, in order: A raccoon at one station, a bobcat at another . . . then a gray fox and flying squirrel . . . two more flying squirrels, another gray fox, and a black bear (colored brown). In some of the pictures, the animals looked like kids caught with their hands in a cookie jar.

The shots at Bucks Lake, revealed a flying squirrel sitting on a bait sack, another squirrel -- and then the main culprit: A big 'ol bear, about 250 pounds, climbing down from the tree, with the burlap bag in his mouth -- the look of a bandit in his eye. The mystery had been solved.

But in 59 day's worth of film, none of the target species were captured.

"We're a little disappointed," Fry said, "but as re-licensing comes up in other areas, we'll keep looking."

One conclusion from this study is that areas with high snow and heavy snowmobile use have less wildlife activity than other areas.

And, oh yeah, there were no Bigfoot either.

Fry grinned. "It makes for fascinating folklore." Then he added after a pause. "Of course, there are many things out there yet to be discovered."

E-mail Tom Stienstra at


Well-known member
Dec 1, 2001
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Very Interesting. Spectr17 where do you find these articles? You always post some really neat stuff?

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