In late 2002, the ECF was awarded two grants, from the Summerlee Foundation and the Norcross Wildlife Foundation, to purchase and deploy a fleet of remote motion-detector cameras to survey for the presence of cougars in Monongahela National Forest in WV.
This is a historic survey, being the first officially endorsed field search for cougars since USF&WS biologist Robert Downing (now retired and on the ECF Board) conducted the only previous search in the early 1980s.
The first thing that ECF officers did was to form a Field Advisory Committee, composed of several ECF Board members who had experience with remote camera surveys, plus representatives of all three agencies -- the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and WV Department of Natural Resources -- who have jurisdiction over any aspect of this work.
A meeting held Feb. 6-7, 2003, in Beckley, WV, resulted in a detailed Study Design and Field Manual to guide Todd Lester as he directs the field work. A myriad of details were decided, including application for all appropriate permits, use of a GPS unit to record station locations, layout of a grid pattern for effective coverage of terrain, schedule for monitoring, types of film and development, testing of cameras and film, and all the necessary data sheets for recording information. Field work began at the end of March and will continue until mid-September. Read field leader Todd Lester's log entries as the search proceeds.
The ECF believes that community outreach is just as important as the actual field work, so contact with leaders of several service organizations in two towns near the survey area was made by ECF officers. Each person was given an overview of the survey project and sent copies of the two ECF brochures for distribution among members. The people contacted were interested and supportive; one reported seeing a cougar several years ago. There's also the possibility that ECF officers or volunteers will make presentations to community groups in the future.
If a cougar is photographed, a press release will be sent to local communities and will be posted on the website.
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