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Help track paws for a cause

Project keeps tabs on Mount Hood's scarcest wild things
by: COURTESY OF CASCADIA WILD, Dave Shapiro, a former director of Cascadia Wild who’s now on the nonprofit’s board, scouts for footprints last winter on Mount Hood.

In Portland, sightings of wild animals such as bald eagles, deer and coyotes aren't common but they do occur, particularly in the outer limits of town and in the watershed areas of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

Portlanders toting binoculars often flock to Sauvie Island and fringe city and state parks in hopes of catching glimpses of animals in their natural habitats. But what about that towering mountain east of us?

High-altitude alpine animals such as wolverines, lynx and marten make Mount Hood their home year-round, and a local organization wants to introduce you to the cold-loving critters - and at the same time help protect the animals' habitats.

Cascadia Wild, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation, community and nature awareness in the Cascadia bioregion, is well into its seventh year of the Wolverine Tracking Project. This part-classroom, part-field session program educates Portlanders about their furry alpine neighbors by facilitating winter and spring tracking trips in Mount Hood National Forest in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

Marion Warfield of Cascadia Wild's public relations office says: 'With U.S. Forest Service cuts across the board, this partnership has taken on greater significance and meaning. More than ever, eyes and ears are wanted up in the mountain, tracking and reporting what we're finding. Keeping tabs on population trends and species information is critical in forming management plans.'

The last Wolverine Tracking Project class of the season takes place Thursday. You must attend this class to participate in any of the biweekly tracking trips or overnight snow trips that Cascadia Wild organizes between now and April.

Warfield says, 'This is a great way for folks to get out of the city, learn some nature stuff, become familiar with their mountain, meet new folks and have great fun in the snow.'

All ages are welcome, although children must be accompanied by an adult. Snowshoes and first-aid kits are provided, and carpools to and from Mount Hood are arranged.

Wolverines are listed as a federal 'species of concern.' Sightings of this largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family are rare, but the carnivorous alpine creatures are considered a prime indicator species of the general health and diversity of the forest.

Cascadia Wild volunteers also help the Forest Service by tracking the marten - a smaller member of the weasel family with thick fur and bushy tails - and lynx, a medium-size wild cat with a short tail, tufted ears and large padded paws, which is labeled as federally threatened.

All of these animals are hard to spot (tracks are much more common), but since the cost of the class includes limitless Mount Hood survey trips, you'll have plenty of opportunities to make use of your new skills.

Find out more

Wolverine Tracking Project training

When: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7

Where: Metro Regional Center, 600 N.E. Grand Ave., room 370A

Cost: $50, $35 for Cascadia Wild members or returning tracking project trackers

More: www.cascadiawild.org