Movies make animal tracking look so easy. In reality, it is a difficult skill and takes a long time to learn, but the rewards are tremendous, said Teri Lysak, the director of Cascadia Wild’s Wolverine Tracking Project.

by: PHOTO BY JON HOUSE - Animal trackers from Cascadia Wild inspect a scrape on a trail and make notations saying that they believe to be either a bobcat or cougar in the Mount Hood Nartional Forest.People get to connect with nature, learn a new skill and add to a scientific-knowledge base at the same time, she said.

Cascadia Wild is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire personal connections to nature and communities by teaching animal tracking, wild edible-plant identification and wilderness-survival skills.

The group will offer classroom training sessions starting in January, followed by field trips to Oxbow Park, near Troutdale. Once participants have taken both sessions, they are eligible to attend survey trips at Mount Hood, which take place nearly every weekend through March. Cascadia Wild provides some of the winter gear, such as snowshoes.

The next training sessions begin in January. Find out more by visiting

Elusive forest animals

The tracking project “gets people out to Mount Hood, tracking and surveying for rare carnivores,” Lysak said.

It is made possible by classroom and Cascadia Wild membership fees and by a grant from the National Forest Foundation. The main focus of the project is to verify the existence of the elusive American wolverine in the Mount Hood area, but the trackers also keep an eye out for other carnivores, like the montagne red fox and porcupines.

All three creatures are endangered because of climate change and other factors, and scientifically verifying their presence will help put them on the endangered species list to protect them, Lysak said.

Wolverines are particularly hard to detect, she added, as they have “a huge home range of 400 square miles.”

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Teri Lysak, coordinator of Cascadia Wilds Wolverine Tracking Project, right, shows Kelly Hogan how to collect animal scat using two sticks.After the required classroom and field-trip sessions, participants go to Mount Hood in a group of 10, accompanied by two trip leaders. They look for animal tracks in the snow and mud, and also collect animal feces, known as scat, and collect urine and hair samples as well.

You cannot take tracks back to researchers, so scat and other items, collected in a glass tube, provide scientists with genetic material to verify the animals’ presence in the area, Lysak said. Photos of the tracks are helpful, and participants also draw the tracks in their journals, but the scat provides much more concrete evidence, she said.

“What I really like about this project is the combination of getting people out into the forest, learning how the natural world works, and collecting useful data. Cascadia Wild is about teaching and helping people understand we need to protect what we enjoy,” Lysak said.

Trip leaders

Kelly Hogan, a Milwaukie resident, is nearly finished with her training to become a trip leader with Cascadia Wild.

Hogan is a preschool teacher with Mother Earth School, based at Jean’s Farm in the Ardenwald neighborhood, and at the Tryon Life Community Farm in Southwest Portland.

“We are outside all the time, and everywhere we go is connected with what is around us. When the little ones find an animal print in the mud, they know one of our friends walked by,” she said.

What attracted Hogan to the idea of animal tracking is the storytelling aspect of the endeavor.

“One aspect of my school is survival skills, and I weave in a lot of storytelling. Tracks tell a story and if you can read it, you can create place-based stories,” she said.

Hogan first met Lysak on a plant walk, learning about edible plants. Lysak encouraged her to take the tracking class, and then Hogan decided to continue to become a trip leader.

She remembers her first Oxbow Park field trip, when the leader pointed out where a coyote had gone into the creek. It then came out, shook itself off and walked away, the leader said.

At first she thought it was not possible to glean all that information from one set of paw prints, but the leader walked her through the prints, and “everything came to life. It was really exciting to be part of the environment. Sometimes humans just see the environment as scenery.”

Hogan added: “This work is about connecting to something greater than myself. It is connecting on a lot of different levels. We are collecting important scientific data, we are connecting people with the outdoors and with like-minded people, and this connects us with other creatures and the fact that we all live on the land.”

Follow the clues

What: Cascadia Wild’s Wolverine Tracking Project

When: The next classroom session is from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9. The field trip is from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Jan. 11. Other dates are available.

Where: Classroom sessions take place at Portland’s Metro Regional Center Building, 600 N.E. Grand Ave. The field trips are at Oxbow Regional Park, 3010 S.E. Oxbow Parkway, Gresham.

Details: The cost is $65 for the two training sessions plus membership, which allows participants to go on an unlimited number of Mount Hood survey trips.

Website:, click on Wolverine Tracking Project.

More: Call 503-235-9533 or send an email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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