Smile! You’re on Westwood Camera

Smile! You’re on Westwood Camera

The intersection of First and Division Streets in Ishpeming is pictured prior to paving First Street. Water infrastructure was replaced in the area as part of the city’s ongoing $10.7 million water U.S. Department of Agriculture project. The Ishpeming City Council approved a plan to seek additional USDA funding for the replacement of infrastructure on Division Street/Business M-28 from Pine Street to Seventh Street during a special meeting on Wednesday. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — Does a pine marten behave differently in a relatively urbanized area compared to a wilderness setting?

Westwood High School students soon might have a chance to help biologists find out with the help of specially placed cameras.

NICE Community Schools is partnering with Northern Michigan University for a special wildlife study curriculum this school year — one that will take high schoolers into the field.

NICE Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine said NMU approached the district to see if any students would be interested in such a program.

“Of course, we said, ‘Yes, absolutely,'” DeAugustine said.

A pine marten, a member of the weasel family, might be a focus of a new wildlife study conducted by Westwood High School and Northern Michigan University. (Photo courtesy of Steve Slocomb)

Students will perform live camera work in the district after speaking with local property owners to get permission to go on their lands, he said, with the NMU cameras to be triggered by motion to monitor different areas.

“They’ll grid it out so they look at certain sections of this part of the U.P. and see what kind of animals show up on the feeds,” DeAugustine said.

Westwood’s location in the Upper Peninsula could be considered ideal for such a project since it’s close to urbanized areas, yet near vast expanses of natural land.

The school district encompasses Ishpeming, Ely, Humboldt and Spurr townships; National Mine; and Champion.

The program would be part of Westwood’s Biology Department, with Advanced Biology students as well as sophomore students in the regular biology curriculum taking part, DeAugustine said.

Jay LeRoy, a biology teacher at Westwood, and Diana Lafferty, assistant biology professor at NMU, will be involved.

“The Advanced Bio kids, they’re a higher level student as it is,” LeRoy said.

Lafferty has a goal for the program: authentic science.

However, the program, whose idea was initiated by Jim Grundstrom, president at Frei Chevrolet Inc., in Marquette Township, still is in its infancy.

“Right now we’re in the project-planning phase,” Lafferty said. “This is a really good time to get started. Students here at Westwood can start thinking about study design so we can get really meaningful data. We have to have a very rigorous systematic way about putting out the camera.”

For instance, the cameras can’t be put out in the field in a haphazard way, she noted. So, should they be placed 5 kilometers apart, or just 2?

These decisions will be part of the program — just as they would in regular “real world” science.

A Geographic Information System will be used to look at human-modified landscapes — proportion of forest cover, different cover types, neighborhoods, big developments like shopping complexes and other infrastructure, she said.

The target of the study will be wildlife uses of urban landscapes, so working along what Lafferty called a “rural wild land gradient” can provide new information.

“Most wildlife studies take place in the wild lands,” Lafferty said. “We want to know how animals behave in their natural habitat. But what is natural? Humans aren’t unnatural. We certainly are a dominant part of the landscape, so we need to start understanding how wildlife live, persist, survive and potentially even thrive in these modified human landscapes, and that’s where this project comes in.”

With the data that’s derived from the project, those patterns and relationships can be examined, she said — and that means learning about the contrast between what animals are doing in the neighborhoods versus what they’re doing in the wild since those behaviors likely are different.

Westwood students also will participate in image classification, which Lafferty acknowledged will be a big component.

“You can get a lot more information from the images than just what’s there,” she said, with data including the time of day an animal was present at a spot, weather conditions and temperatures.

“Then, of course, we have the spatial location of that camera,” Lafferty said. “So, we get all this other information that’s supporting all of the ecology of that particular individual.”

That information can be used to answer basic ecology questions and test hypotheses about why they’re seeing what they’re seeing, she said.

“Some of this is just for sheer curiosity,” Lafferty said. “What is living in and around our neighborhoods? Some of that is going to be pretty straightforward. We’re used to seeing raccoons.”

LeRoy also said people are seeing a lot of coyotes in the neighborhoods as well as many deer.

Less common, Lafferty noted, are bobcats, but the elusive animals still are in the region, with neighborhoods possibly acting as refuge sites for such animals.

“It’s very common for bobcats even to tuck up under people’s porches and in the bushes, and often times you never even see them,” Lafferty said. “You don’t even know they’re there.”

Again, that’s how the Westwood-NMU project could be significant for conservation of certain species.

“If we know where they are, how they’re interacting with other members of their community, both competitors and prey, we can potentially make better decisions to help alleviate any human-wildlife conflicts that might arise when you do live with carnivores,” Lafferty said.

Even hard structures have potential thermal differences in and around concrete relative to a forest, so if certain features that are attracting or repelling wildlife can be identified, that used can be used for better management practices, particularly for human-carnivore conflict, she said.

“One cool thing about the U.P. is that people are pretty connected to their natural resources,” Lafferty said. “A lot of people are here because they love the great outdoors and they love the animals that are here, so if we can find a better way to harmonize that, it could be a win-win for people and wildlife, I hope.”

LeRoy also sees a benefit for the Westwood students.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to work hand in hand with Northern and Northern’s professors,” LeRoy said. “They’ll be able to open up their eyes a little bit to possibilities as far as in the sciences and career choices and those kind of things.”

Lafferty, who said camera deployment will take place later this year or in January, hopes the project will link directly to Michigan Science Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.

She also wants to see the wildlife study project lasting five to seven years and potentially longer because getting to see changes in wildlife communities over time, along with human communities, is “pretty exciting.”

Plus, it’s a project that can involve students.

“This is real science,” Lafferty said. “This is going to get published.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.