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Internet-Assisted Wildlife Viewing Can Be Fun

Fish & Wildlife

Fri Jan 29 00:00:00 MST 2010

The Internet makes it easy to participate in the world around us—even the outdoor world. It may sound ironic, but the Internet is a great way to become a more interactive wildlife viewer or even a citizen scientist. Here are some of the possibilities.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Discover Montana's Ecosystems learning tool at  is full of vivid images and wildlife film clips that youngsters and adults will love. Choose an ecosystem you'll visit soon or one where you live—for example, montane forest or shrub grassland. Click to see a movie of this habitat and the wildlife species at home there and hear their natural sounds! To view vibrant images of the mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles of this ecosystem, expand the slide file.

One caution—visit this site after dark to avoid burning up time you'd spend in the outdoors. There is so much to explore you will return here time after time.

Citizen scientists, who like to observe and report on the wildlife they see, now have a fun new way to put their discoveries to work on the Internet. The Montana Natural Heritage Program's Tracker  at allows people to register with the site and then log their wildlife sightings—mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians—into the state database where biologists can use them to track the distribution and well being of Montana's many wildlife species. The MTNHP serves as the state's information source for animals, plants, and plant communities.

The reported wildlife sightings are also accessible on Tracker to interested wildlife viewers and others. Or, go to the Montana online Field Guide, a joint product of FWP and MTNHP, at, to see these observations summarized in charts and on maps for each species. For example, the pygmy rabbit's relative density is mapped based on 1,221 individual field observations.

Today, Montana's databases contain nearly 850,000 animal observations compared to 120,000 in 2005 thanks to Tracker and a growing attention to wildlife communities as a whole, including the many nongame species that are essential to a healthy, fully functioning habitat.

While hunters' and anglers' pay license fees that support the management of fish and wildlife, there are no similar fees associated with wildlife viewing that could help support nongame species management. That is where the Nongame Wildlife Check-off on the Montana income tax form comes in. Taxpayers can check the box next to the eagle to donate. Surprisingly, less than one percent of Montanans do so, although nearly half of the state's population identify themselves as wildlife viewers.

In the 20 some years since its inception, the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff has generated nearly $500,000, with annual contributions ranging from $16,500 to $34,000. FWP stretches these contributions by matching them to federal, private and in-kind contributions, including the time of numerous volunteers.

To learn more about nongame wildlife work and how you might become involved as a donor or volunteer, or to learn more about wildlife viewing, visit the FWP Web site at  under the Wild Things tab for Nongame Check-off.


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The folks at the Montana Natural Heritage Program say Tracker is an extraordinarily sophisticated Internet application. It provides direct public access to the extensive MTNHP databases with information on the location of Montana wildlife and other species—and enables the public to log in and report sightings.

Tracker, at, requires a fast Internet connection, so those with slow Internet access might want to explore Tracker at the public library or other site that offers a faster connection. The MTNHP Web site also provides individuals with access to a simple observation form for plants and animals or an excel spreadsheet to track sightings. To find them, click on Submit Observations on the home page.

A curious wildlife viewer can read the observations stored by Tracker by clicking on a specific species under Reports and selecting Generalized Observations. A click on Display calls up a map of the sightings, then use the zoom tool to draw a box around a particular locale and click on Charts & Data at the bottom of the map. Choose Observation Details to read the reports on individual sightings.