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Gray Fox Research and Wildfire Training

This week, a researcher from the Wildlife Ecology Institute invited us to assist/participate in ongoing research of gray fox populations in Indiana, an area to which they are native. Research has shown that gray fox populations are declining due to habitat fragmentation. As of the moment, there have been no confirmed sightings of gray foxes at Big Oaks. But, that does not mean that they are not there! Their home range fluctuates between from 74 to 6,000 AND they are very skittish. They do not want to come into contact with humans. On a 50,000 acre refuge, probability of encounters are extremely slim. You are more likely to see otters (which are also very very hard to see) than you are gray foxes.

Three cameras in three different locations on the refuge to establish gray fox population levels at Big Oaks. However, hanging a camera up on a tree is not as simple as one would think. There are certain natural features that need consideration. Ideally, cameras are placed in areas that are open and have little vegetation. Vegetation can block camera lenses, hindering all photos. One must also consider sunlight; pictures will not be of good quality if the sun is shining straight into the lens. You must also take into consideration the height of the animal; the taller the animal, the higher up the tree the camera should be. The smaller the animal (like a gray fox - although more medium sized), the lower on the tree the camera should be. The last aspect that one should consider are natural trails. Just like humans, animals create trails in the forests to facilitate movement from one area to another. Interestingly enough, all kinds of species will use these natural trails once they are created. Although sometimes hard to see, these natural trails are ideal places to put cameras since they are frequently used by the creatures in the forest.

What if you get no pictures of the animal you are looking for? Well, then the animal does not live in that location or there was nothing in the area that was interesting to the animal. Therefore, to encourage animals to come to the location, researchers use lure aka scents. Although foul smelling to us, they are effective in attracting animals. For two of our locations, we put down some lure, in hopes to get a picture of a gray fox.

Evidence of gray foxes on the refuge would require further action. For starters, more cameras will be set close to the camera that photographed the animal. The next step would involve non-lethal trapping of individual foxes for blood draw and collaring (putting a collar around the neck of the animal). In this particular case, the Wildlife Ecology Institute wants to draw blood to identify diseases. Collaring is a conservation tool used to track animal location and movements. In other words, with the collar, researchers will be able to study where these foxes go.

If you would like to participate in helping researchers gather information, please visit this website: Sightings by the public help research identify where to put future cameras. With information gathered from the public and through their research, the Wildlife Ecology Institute hopes to come up with better management practices for the gray fox species for both Indiana and other midwestern states.

Let us shift to another gear, shall we?

The most important aspect of firefighting is making sure that firefighters are safe. Every single individual must carry/wear personal protective gear, also known as PPE at all times

  • A construction helmet: protects your head from potential falling branches or snags (standing dead trees)

  • Leather gloves (fire resistant: material that will not molt in contact with heat. Acts as a barricade from heat to the skin)

  • Fire boots (leather)

  • Fire proof clothing: On top of your cotton or wool clothing (no synthetics), you must wear a flame resistant yellow jacket (ex: Nomex) and flame resistant pants.

  • Radio pouch: it is important to stay in communication. Passing information about fire behavior, change in weather, potential hazards or emergency situations will help fires go smoothly.

  • Compass: useful if you know how to use it! It can help you find your way back if you get lost. But it also helps know which way the fire is going.

  • Safety glasses: Protect your eyes from heat and potential sparks

  • Fire shelter: Used as a last resource only. If all of the escape routes are blocked off and you are trapped by the fire, deploy your fire shelter. BUT you have to make sure that you are deploying your fire shelter in the safest place possible: far from fuel (anything that burns), on a flat surface, etc.

  • The Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG): a little notebook that gives you resumes of the most important things to know about wildfires.

  • Lots of water and food! Depending on the size, fires can last for over 10 hours. You have to make sure you stay hydrated and don’t go into the field with an empty stomach.

Three components start and help maintain a fire: heat, oxygen and fuel. Removing one will put out a fire. Consider a campfire.

To start a fire, large logs are not placed first because they need more time to heat up before catching fire. In nature, grasses and shrubs will catch fire a lot quicker than trees.When a fire is burning uphill, the flames preheat the vegetation that is further up the hill. Once the flames reach that area, the vegetation will catch fire more quickly.

Campers often blow on campfires to create larger flames. In doing so, they are providing a surplus of oxygen. When you stomp on the fire, you've removed all the oxygen; the fire goes out.

Fuel refers to any material that can burn. At a campsite, you have twigs, small branches and logs. In nature, this includes: logs, trees, snags, leafs, grasses, shrubs, etc. In other words, there is a lot more fuel in a forest than at a campsite.

To control the direction and intensity of the fire, firefighters must consider all three components. One way of controlling a fire is by using hand tools. Hoes, shovels, pulaskis, mcleods and council rakes are used to remove different size fuels. Fire flappers (large leather flaps attached to a wooden handle) stomp fires out (just like your foot would!).

To start a fire, fighters use drip torches - not matches or fire starters.

Have you ever heard of the phrase "You can't fight fire with fire?" Technically not true. Wildland firefighters do in fact use fire to stop fires from spreading. But let us stick to water for now. Fire vehicles are equipped with large water tanks that pump water into hoses (of different width) to put out fires or create wetline (I know a lot of vocab words I'm throwing at you!). I'll have you look up what a wetline is.

We start our first hunting weekend today. We will let you know how it went in next week's blog!

Fire backpack and helmet.


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