Snapshot Wisconsin, a 26-county network of wildlife-monitoring trail cameras, is seeking volunteers in all 72 counties as the popular program goes statewide on August 9.
Snapshot coordinator Susan Frett credits the volunteers for the success of program that has been bringing Wisconsin’s wildlife into homes and classrooms for the last four years. “We’re thrilled to see what we can learn once we start seeing trail camera photos from every corner of the state,”
Bobcats, herons, elk and even flying squirrels have made appearances on the network. It’s all happened without disturbing any dens or ruffling a single feather. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources uses Snapshot Wisconsin to capture animals digitally using a statewide network of volunteer-hosted trail cameras.
Individuals and educators have signed up to host cameras and send in batch after batch of wildlife photos for classification on the project’s crowd-sourcing website, Zooniverse. The project has 1,012 volunteers monitoring 1,243 cameras, and together, they’ve taken more than 22 million photos of Wisconsin wildlife.
Frett says this is the largest volunteer-supported wildlife study that the state has ever seen, and it’s become a national leader in the emerging field of camera-based wildlife monitoring.
“The DNR is looking for new volunteers to help expand the program, enrich the data we collect and help us explore our diverse wildlife together. Whether you’re an individual or a teacher with a classroom of students, there’s a way for you to participate,” Frett said.
Anyone with access to 10 or more contiguous acres of public or private land can apply to host a trail camera. For educators interested in hosting a camera with their class or school, Snapshot Wisconsin has developed curriculum plans for all ages. They’re available free on the program’s website for anyone to use.
The DNR provides all necessary training and supplies to accepted applicants. Volunteers do not need to have prior trail camera experience, but they do need basic computer skills and access to the internet to participate. Snapshot Wisconsin has local, in-person training sessions for accepted volunteers scheduled this fall throughout the state. Online training is also available.
Even people who are unable to host a camera, can get involved: Snapshot Wisconsin uses Zooniverse to turn trail camera photos into useful wildlife data.
“We’re classifying thousands of photos each month thanks to our Zooniverse volunteers. With Snapshot Wisconsin launching statewide, the number of photos will skyrocket,” Frett said. “And Zooniverse is the perfect way for individuals and classrooms to contribute to the project and learn about Wisconsin’s wildlife.”
Jennifer Stenglein, a research scientist in the DNR Office of Applied Science, says using photos to study animals is part of a larger trend in wildlife research called camera trapping.
“One benefit of trail camera trapping is that we can monitor multiple species at once,” Stenglein said. “Wildlife monitoring is the collection of observational data on a species of interest. In the case of Snapshot Wisconsin, those data are the individual photos taken by volunteer-hosted trail cameras.”
Stenglein and her colleagues apply Snapshot Wisconsin data to a variety of monitoring efforts, from elk population estimates to deer fawn-to-doe ratios. “We then share our findings to support the DNR’s decisions about wildlife management,” Stenglein said.