Wildlife Conservation Assistant – Mosaics In Science

Mount Rainier National Park
Published
December 1, 2020
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Description

During the last century, the American West lost many of its predators, the impacts of which have cascaded through the ecosystem. The causes of these declines are myriad and include direct human-caused mortality, as well as habitat loss and the creation of substantial barriers to population connectivity. Significant, historical threats such as overharvest and predator control programs have been eliminated; and some carnivore populations are slowly recovering. However, swaths of landscape remain and continue to be fragmented, and climate change poses a novel challenge. Among the carnivore species most at risk are the mid-sized carnivores (i.e. mesocarnivores) including: fisher (Pekania pennanti), wolverine (Gulo gulo), and Cascade red fox (Vulpes vulpes cascadensis). Fishers were extirpated from Washington State by the mid-1900s and are actively being restored through reintroductions. Wolverines were also extirpated from the state in the mid-1900s and there is some recent evidence of recolonization by at least three individuals in the south Cascades, though their status and ability to persist are unknown. Historically, Cascade red fox occurred throughout the Washington and British Columbian Cascade Mountains but their range has contracted to a small portion of the south Cascades, with Mount Rainier National Park providing essential core habitat and habitat connectivity.  Mount Rainier National Park has been actively engaged in mesocarnivore monitoring and recovery with the five primary goals. The intern will work as a member of a team, in collaboration with the Cascades Carnivore Project to conduct scat surveys on trails, which will allow MORA to continue to identify species and individuals, and to accomplish the following goals: 1) detect occurrence of fisher, wolverine and Cascade red fox in the park using photos and DNA from scats, hair, and urine samples, 2) estimate the number of Cascade red fox in the park using genetic mark-recapture analysis of genotyped DNA, 3) identify health risks by characterizing parasites in scats, 4) identify key food resources by DNA metabarcoding of scat samples, 5) estimate Cascade red fox home range size and seasonal distribution to identify areas to focus education and outreach efforts and reduce fox habituation, food conditioning and human/wildlife conflicts. Field work requires hiking up to 10 miles per day for multiple consecutive days in a remote, mountainous setting carrying pack that weighs up to 40 pounds. 

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