Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday to the National Park Service!

Today (August 25, 2016) the National Park Service is celebrating their 100th birthday! That's 100 years that they have been taking care of our precious and irreplaceable public lands.

The National Park Service (NPS) was established by an act of Congress in 1916 to manage public lands that were assigned to the U.S. Department of the Interior at the time, such as Yellowstone National Park. By 1933 the role of the National Park Service had expanded to make it the primary federal agency responsible for preserving and protecting our country's most valuable natural and cultural resources.

The NPS now manages over 400 sites, including 58 national parks and a number of national seashores, national lake-shores, national rivers, national scenic-trails, national monuments, national memorials, national military parks, and national battlefields.  

The oldest NPS managed site is Yellowstone National Park, first designated as a park by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Known for its spectacular geothermal geysers, ancient petrified forests, sparkling waterfalls, and abundance of wildlife, Yellowstone covers over 2 million acres. To celebrate the NPS centennial Yellowstone National Park is hosting "An Evening at the Arch" centennial event to kick off the second century of the National Park Service. Tickets to the event are already sold out but you can watch the event live at (broadcast begins at 6pm Mountain Daylight Time)

The newest NPS managed site is Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, designated as a National Monument just yesterday by President Obama. It encompasses approximately 87,000 acres of Maine including the East Branch of the Penobscot River and a large section of Maine's woods that are rich in biodiversity.

The National Park Service is inviting everyone to celebrate their centennial with them by holding special events across the country and providing free admission to all 412 national parks from August 25 through August 28.

Find out more about each of our parks and what they are doing to celebrate the NPS centennial at the links below:

Happy Birthday to the National Park Service from Wilderness Volunteers!

More information about our National Parks:

National Park Birthday Invitation:

Centennial Events at the NPS:

Volunteer and Give Something Back to our National Parks:

Wilderness Volunteers is partnering with 17 different NPS managed areas in 2016 to help them complete critical projects including trail construction and maintenance, invasive weed removal, archaeological survey, and planting native flora. There are still openings on some of these projects for fall 2016. Find out more about giving something back to our National Parks with Wilderness Volunteers on our project homepage.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Brief Introduction to Animal Track Identification

Have you ever been in the backcountry and run across an interesting animal track that you wish you could identify? With some instruction, a few careful observations and maybe a couple of measurements you can likely identify what animal left the track in question and gain some insight about wildlife in the area you are visiting.

  • Look for tracks in wet and sandy places like stream beds, beaches, or sand dunes. Snow also is a great place to find tracks. 
  • Good quality impressions make it much easier to decipher tracks.
  • Look at gait (an animals manner of walking) clues when you can. An animals gait can help you narrow down the range of possibilities. 
  • Try to pick out identifying characteristics (how many toes, are there claw impressions, etc.) 
  • A flashlight held at an oblique angle can help bring out details in a track.
  • Size can often be a defining feature. 
  • Take along a notepad to sketch tracks and relevant observations/measurements.
  • Animals like bears, skunk, beaver, opossum, badger, raccoon, weasel and otters have five toes on both front and rear feet.
  • Members of both the Felidae (cat) and Canidae (dog) family have four toes on the front and rear feet.
  • Claws are typically visible on prints from members of the Canidae family (wolves, coyotes, foxes, dogs, etc.).
  • Claws are typically not visible on prints from members of the Felidae family (mountain lion, bobcats, lynx, house cats, etc.) due to their retractable claws. 
  • Rodents such as mice, squirrels, prairie dogs, marmots, muskrat, chipmunks and porcupines have four toes on the front and five toes on their hind feet. 
  • Deer, reindeer, elk, antelope, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, wild boar and moose have two toes.
  • Raccoon prints have long toes and resemble tiny human hands/feet.
  • Opossum prints have the front fingers spread very widely and rear print has a distinctive thumb-like toe.
  • Beaver have large webbed hind foot prints.
  • To differentiate black bear tracks from brown bear tracks:  
    • #1 find the lowest point of the outside (largest) toe 
    • #2 find the highest point on the front edge of the palm pad 
    • #3 draw a line through the two points and extend across the track. If more than half of the smallest toe is above the line, the print is from a brown bear. If more than half is below the line, the print is from a black bear. 
  • Bird tracks can be classified as follows:
    • Anisodactyl tracks/ perching birds: 3 toes pointing forward and one long toe pointing backward. (eagles, ravens, hawks, doves, vultures, herons, etc.)
    • Game bird/ ground birds: 3 toes pointing forward with short/absent toe pointing backward. (turkey, quail, pheasant, ptarmigan, partridge, coots, cranes, grouse, etc.)
    • Palmate tracks/ water birds: 3 webbed toes (ducks, geese, gulls, terns, etc)
    • Totipalmate tracks/ ocean birds: 4 webbed toes (pelicans, gannets, boobies, cormorants, etc.)
    • Zygodactyl tracks: 2 toes pointing forward & 2 toes pointing backward (woodpeckers, roadrunners, parrots, owls, osprey, etc.) 
click image for larger view
(please note tracks are not to scale)

Here are a few tracks that you can use to test your track identification skills (scroll down for the answers):








Happy tracking!

Some great resources for more tracking info:

#1 mountain lion
#2 black bear
#3 turkey
#4 brown bear
#5 moose
#6 otter
#7 wolf