An educational program for children and their families at the High Desert Museum left a positive effect on the participants, but also valuable data for wildlife biologists.
The museum hosted six workshop sessions in April and May for nine families with children ages 6 through 10. The program — funded by a $250,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences — focused on studying carnivores in the Central Oregon Cascades.
Each family took home a wildlife camera during the six-week program and captured images of passing animals such as deer, coyotes and jackrabbits. Now, their photos are available in book form from local libraries.
“All of that data is useful,” Jon Nelson, curator of wildlife at the museum, said. “You never know what is going to be valuable or not.”
One family caught especially useful images of a red fox, possibly the rare Sierra Nevada red fox biologists are hoping to learn more about. Two Sierra Nevada red foxes were captured and radio-collared in May in the high-elevation forest near Mount Bachelor.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is attempting to catch and study more of the rare species, Nelson said.
The one caught on camera was in the lower elevation of Dry Canyon in Redmond, an unexpected location. It would take a DNA sample from a hair snare to be sure it was the Sierra Nevada fox, Nelson said.
“It’s not out of the question that it could be,” he said.
Stacey Durden, her husband, Jeff, and 10-year-old daughter, Ila, are the family that spotted the red fox. The Durdens tied the camera to a tree off Dry Canyon Trail near their house and then sprinkled bits of tuna and cat food to entice animals. It worked on the fox, Stacey Durden said.
“The fox would come around at 9 a.m. and back at 5 p.m. and that was its routine,” she said.
Using information they learned at the workshops, the Durdens continue to visit the Dry Canyon area and check tracks and scat, including from the fox.
The family is planning to buy their own wildlife camera to continue their citizen-science work. Durden — the development director and communications manager at Volunteers in Medicine Clinic of the Cascades in Bend — said the whole experience has built up her daughter’s confidence and has made her excited about adding to scientific research in the region. Ila plans to upload wildlife photos to the citizen science website, iNaturalist.com.
“To look and see what other people are seeing in Central Oregon, and that our experience could further research, I think she felt really fulfilled by being a part of it,” Durden said.
The program last spring culminated with each family putting together a 20- to 30-page book full of photos and writings about their experience. Copies of the books are available for checkout at the Deschutes public libraries and to view at the museum. The library system and museum worked with Oregon State University-Cascades to run the program.
Christina Cid, director of programs for the museum, said working with the families made a huge impact on her, and she is looking forward to hosting the program again in April with a new group of families. The grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services covers the program next year. Cid is exploring other funding sources to make the program an annual event.
“I’ve been an educator for more than 20 years, and this was the first opportunity I had to work with families for a sustained period of time,” Cid said. “Throughout the program, the families were exploring the carnivores that live throughout Central Oregon. Families don’t often get opportunities like this to learn together.”
For the Durdens, meeting every Saturday for six weeks at the museum for the workshops was not only educational but also guaranteed quality family time.
“I thought the team building as a family would be a really great thing to go through,” Durden said. “It was rewarding.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820,