Paparazzi in the Woods. Wildlife surveillance cameras

Paparazzi in the Woods. Wildlife surveillance cameras. Slate Magazine. By Etienne Benson

I think they are a lot less intrusrive than radio collars. RM





  1. Ryan Avatar

    Trail cameras are sweet. The animals aren’t scared of them and they offer the chance to see whats going on with minimal impact to wildlife.

  2. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Men are constantly trying to replace old fashioned tracking skills with electronic technology. Remote cameras may catch an animal but don’t show what it eats, where it sleeps, where it drinks, where it stands in its animal group, what kind of personality it has and what its character means to its family group. Nightvision, infrared stuff and flur are supposed to make search and rescue groups a thing of the past but so far I haven’t seen any of this stuff work. I have seen the cameras work in a predator survey I took part in .. they took some pictures but the real data came from tracking. We also got some great pictures of human asses. Literally.

  3. Maska Avatar

    Remote cameras have certainly been useful in establishing and documenting the presence of jaguars in southern Arizona over the past few years, but I agree with Linda–that they are at best merely one tool in the kit of wildlife researchers. They provide a snapshot or two, while human trackers and observers fill in the rest of the story.

  4. jimbob Avatar

    I agree with all of you, Ralph included, but I think the biggest negative impact by these cameras is on “hunting”. Hunters and guides across the U.S. are now setting these up in areas to scout for game. Now, in addition to the fact that they can use a motorized atv to ride to the spot and use an electronic call to kill an animal they never had to leave their house to scout for……and can be almost absolutely sure where it will be……Wow! How can you call that hunting? I’d call it shooting. Ethics have changed in hunting the last 30 years. Now it’s just a business. Would anybody besides me say that anything that gives the hunter an unfair advantage is not ethical? I’d say a trail camera is a HUGE advantage for a hunter.

  5. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    What will $$$$ cameras show us about wolves that folks like Adolph Murie and David Mech haven’t already seen? What will $$$$ cameras show us about bears that Larry Aumiller, Derek Stonorov, Terry DeBruyn, and Lynn Rogers haven’t already seen?

    For at least 2 decades, we’ve known what human activities need to be managed in wolf and bear country, but we haven’t done it. Instead of $10,000 for a camera that lets us be peeping Toms in a wolf den, how about $10,000 for the US Forest Service to hire people to keep ATVs away from wolf dens? That might not be the perfect example, but you get the idea.

  6. Ryan Avatar


    Thats not true at all, my cameras are set up on waterholes allowing me to see where and at what time the animals are drinking. Also if I remember right, a wolverine was discovered in the cascades by a trail camera.


    I understand that you get all of your sterotypes about hunting from a few clips on TV, but there is much more than that. I put my trail cameras several miles off the main roads (as they get stolen if too close to the road) and can only check them by hiking in once a week to pull the sim cards and change out the batteries if needed. To get the same information out of these areas I would have to sit for hours, pollute the areas with my scent, and ultimately change the animals behavior. Now I can leave the area realtively unmolested for the majority of the year and glean valuable information about it. A win win in my book. Whether or not you hunt, although I would guess you dont but will say that you do to sound like you have more credibility.. You should set one up, the pictures are pretty fascinating to watch.


    10K would get one week of wolf den protection at best.

  7. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    10k would get one week of wolf den protection at best? I’ll take that job for a few weeks, spend the rest of the summer in the Rockies, go fishing in Mexico all winter, and put $10k a year in a 401k. I realize a state or federal agency would have a bit of overhead, but c’mon.

  8. Ryan Avatar

    I do take offs and estimating for a living, here is my best estimate and I am off by roughly 1 week.

    Lets assume 7 12’s no OT and seperat employees, assume its a 20.00 an hr employee. Figure 30.00HR burdened cost (probably low for Goverment) 2460.00 a week for employee, figure another 1.5k a week for the supervision and roughly 250 vehicle costs.. Just a little under 4200 a week for for protection. This does not include set up or equipment for the person protecting the den. So I was wong, it would get a little over 2 weeks in a perfect world.

  9. dave smith Avatar
    dave smith

    Ryan–I’m sure you’re right about the true cost being far more than the cost per hour for a GS-03 seasonal government employee–which makes me wonder about the true cost of keeping Yellowstone open in winter for snowmobilers, especially Sylvan Pass/East Entrance. I’ll take a wild guess and say 5% of Yellowstone visitors arrive on snowmobiles, but 35% of the park budget can be attributed to snowmobiling. Eliminate snowmobiling, and you could cut 100s of jobs and all sorts of maintance costs. Then we could afford to hire people to monitor bear jams, wolf sites in Larmar, and so on.

    But that’s an aside. Rather than spending money on video cameras to spy on wildlife, I’d rather spend the same money on more productive wildlife research and monitoring.

  10. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Ryan I think you missed my point. My point is that when you shoot an animal you have spied on by electronic means you have a snapshot of it, but you don’t know the animal very well at all. I have to use bears as an example because I know them best. I have been tracking the same bear for two years. Now I know where he spends his winter, where he spends his spring, at least this year, and that he is a real character. I found him following in the exact footsteps of a bear grass picker last fall, llcking every pop can the guy dropped and smelling each place he sat down. This spring I found him crawling over a fence into a seed plantation to eat ants. . then he was stuck in there and I found where he twisted wire ties with his teeth to make a hole just big enough for him. . later he found a pole soaked in creasote and bite it up and rubbed all over it leaving hair. I have never seen this bear but enjoy his personality. Whoever shoots him won’t know what a character he is. Thats all . . every electronic device which helps hunters removes them from the animals they take just a little more. I know you probably spend more time and use your photos for enhancing what you already know . . thats is OK, but if you use them for a short cut then you are missing out on some great experiences.

  11. JB Avatar

    I have to agree with Ryan on this one. These cameras (especially in video mode) have yielded new information about animal behavior. For example, I recently saw video of raccoons interacting with coyotes over a bait pile. Why is this interesting? The USDA/WS claims that raccoons and coyotes do not interact and therefore there is little chance of raccoon rabies being passed to coyotes. This video, at least, suggests otherwise.

    I won’t get caught up in arguments over hunting ethics (I’ll save that for another time), but I will tell you that the researchers who use these cameras do so because (1) the cameras allow them to observe behaviors that occur mostly at night, when our limited vision does not allow for direct observation and (2) the cameras allow researchers a much closer view, allowing them to distinguish individual animals and pick up on more subtle behaviors.

  12. Ryan Avatar


    I have been watching a big blacktail buck on a farm I have access too for the last year. I see the same behaviors, trails he uses, where he beds, rubs, and scrapes. But I didn’t know what time he did alot of these activites until now. To effectively set trail cameras, there has to be a more than basic knowledge of the animals habits, home range, etc. I am guessing that this character bear you have never seen would be a prime specimen to try and get on a camera to get a better idea of age, sex etc. I actually like the random animal pics the best, I got a badger on one of mine last week which was a first for me.

  13. Jay Avatar

    If you’re doing it for interest, getting wildlife shots, cool, but if not, whatever happened to just going out and hunting? All this hunting techno-geek crap needs to go away. It’s getting so a bear can’t even sh!t in the woods anymore with a little bit of privacy.

  14. vicki Avatar

    What ever happened to just going out and hunting? The same thing as just going out and doing anything. It has become a modernized and technologically enhanced (or disenhanced) world.
    Some technology has been used to further research and conservation, but remember that in the eyes of progress, what is good for the goose is good for the gander too. When you progress research, those same tools become available to the rest of the people who can afford them as well.
    I am not condoning or supporting this type of activity. But it is going to happen. If it is a detrament, all we can do is try to make laws to govern it’s use.

  15. Linda Hunter Avatar

    I looked on the Cabella web site and saw that you can now get trail cameras for around $200.00. No wonder more people are using them. . you can even put one in your backyard and watch it on your television. I don’t want to get in a hunting argument either and I do agree that this is a great way to supplement animal knowledge which we seem to know precious little about. For instance, how many of you think a big male bear will eat a cub? I was shocked to my toes two weeks ago when I saw an abandoned black bear cub walk up to the biggest black bear male I have ever seen and rub noses. . so I guess the answer is not always huh? What do we really know?

  16. SmalltownID Avatar

    I would love to have an extra 10k to gleen information on the animal I do research with. Really interesting find about Raven’s and ground squirrel’s as potential nest predators of Sage Grouse. Leader’s in sage grouse ecology thought for years ground squirrels were depredating nests. I wish I had some cameras for research. But for hunting, I think it is pathetic.

  17. Ryan Avatar

    “But for hunting, I think it is pathetic.”


  18. jimbob Avatar

    Ryan, you miss my point and we’ll probably have to agree to disagree. Let’s take two hunters for example: a purist and a “slob hunter”. Which do you think would not only approve of trail cameras, but salivate at using them?

    By the way, I am a conservationist first and a sportsman second. Electronic surveillance equipment to hunt animals—-I don’t even agree that we should have speed enforcement cameras!

  19. JB Avatar

    jimbob: I understand your reaction, initially the use of any new technology for hunting or fishing usually strikes me the same way. However, I always fall back on the same two questions: (1) does the use of technology negatively impact species, and (2) does it give hunters/anglers an “unfair” advantage in their pursuit of game. In this instance, my answer is “no” to both of these questions. There is no negative impact on species associated with the use of cameras; in fact, as Ryan points out, they allow hunters to spend less time in the woods, leaving resources “unmolested.” Moreover, the fact that such cameras still require knowledge of tracking and animal behavior and a significant commitment of time and resources suggests (to me at least) that they are unlikely to be employed by the casual–and especially not–the “slob” hunter.

    On a purely selfish note, though I haven’t used them myself, I’ve seen these cameras turn up some really cool pictures of wildlife! 😉

  20. Ryan Avatar

    “Ryan, you miss my point and we’ll probably have to agree to disagree. Let’s take two hunters for example: a purist and a “slob hunter”. Which do you think would not only approve of trail cameras, but salivate at using them?”

    They both would, the difference is the slob hunter doesn’t scout, spend much time in the woods, or make the investment that a trail camera takes. There is some mis notion that you set up a trail cam, then sit on your ass and get pictures with no additional work which is just not true at all.

    I scout my locations to set cameras during May, then set the cameras out in June. From then on its a weekly 50 mile drive and 5 mile round trip hike each week to check each of the three I have out. I move the ones I have in the mountains around my house again in July as the Water situation changes in the high desert. My early camera sets allow me to get pictures of the fawns and calves of the year without disturbing them at a vulnerable time of year, later in the year, my cameras that I put out for elk are on waterholes and wallows which make for some amazing pictures. I don’t know any slob hunters that even put them out due to the time commitment you have to make.

  21. SmalltownID Avatar

    Maybe not pathetic for you Ryan, but for most people that I know, it is pathetic. I like technology, but when it comes to hunting I am against the technology being used today for hunting, it is not hunting to me. You can paint the picture of minimal disturbance, etc. but I am afraid most hunters don’t think in those terms.

    With how nocturnal the big game are right now I thought about using some night-vision goggles I have access to, to do some scouting because it would save me some much needed time, but besides the fact that it is probably illegal I figured it would take away from the sport. The fact is, every true hunter has limits they draw to what is ethical. I am not saying you are not a “true” hunter or that you are unethical. Maybe if I had unlimited funds it would be easier for me to justify using more technology on my hunts. 🙂

    By the way, I know slob hunters (truly, I pick up their garbage after each visit they make to their bear bait) who set up cameras 15 feet off of a creek and 10 feet of a road (both illegal) and another 100 feet from a campsite and then have the nerve to chew campers out for being too loud! Some hunters really give us a bad name.

    So, those of you who have been getting pictures of some ass… it might be mine… I almost never resist. 🙂


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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