Three Methow Valley wildlife biologists have created a new research organization to address urgent needs for wildlife conservation in the face of climate change, wildfires and human development.
The non-profit organization, called Home Range Wildlife Research, will work independently and in collaboration with other conservation groups and agencies to conduct on-the-ground research that will guide wildlife management, said Carmen Vanbianchi, research director.
In addition to applied research, Home Range will provide practical field training opportunities for budding biologists, and involve community members in wildlife conservation through education and citizen science projects.
Vanbianchi and co-founders Anna Machowicz and Becca Windell met while doing research as part of a five-year predator-prey study examining how the return of wolves to northeast Washington, including the Methow Valley, is impacting other animals.
“We all have wildlife biology backgrounds and arrived in the Methow Valley at various points,” Vanbianchi said. “Working together, we realized we all had a deep love and passion for wildlife biology and wildlife management. And we all had developed a deep passion for this landscape and this community.”
They discussed the idea of starting their own research organization, and as their work on the predator-prey project wrapped up this year, they decided the time was right.
“We’re at a point in our careers where we can see what the needs are,” Vanbianchi said. “There’s so much work out there that needs to be done…research that is urgently needed and applicable to this landscape.”
The work of the new organization “is rooted in the belief that as our beloved landscape rapidly changes under climate change and human development, it is important to conduct applied research addressing urgent needs such as wildfire/wildlife ecology and outdoor recreation impacts on wildlife,” Vanbianchi said.
Because they see wildlife conservation and management as such pressing concerns, their research will be geared to providing results that translate into “on-the-ground action,” Vanbianchi said. Home Range will collaborate with agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as conservation organizations, to identify important research that other organizations don’t have the time or funding to do.
As a non-profit organization, Home Range will rely on grants, fundraising and contracts to fund its work.
In one of its first research projects, Home Range is working under contract with Conservation Northwest, a Bellingham-based conservation organization, to produce a report that reviews the existing science literature around the impacts of outdoor recreation on wildlife.
In addition to conducting research, the scientists are committed to helping the next generation of biologists get the practical training they need to do the best possible science. Drawing on their own experience, they want to give upcoming biologists the hands-on training they had to learn on their own.
Anna Machowicz is educational director for Home Range, and wants to develop more capable field technicians who have a deeper understanding of wildlife research techniques.
“A lot of students — aspiring biologists — may come from backgrounds where they haven’t been outside a lot,” Machowicz said. These students need training in basic skills, from knowing what to have in their backpacks, putting on snowshoes, hauling and riding a snowmobile, and indentifying animal tracks.
Home Range will offer practical field skills training courses, with the first course scheduled to take place in the winter of 2022. The curriculum will include instruction in wildlife track and sign interpretation, use of wildlife monitoring technologies, animal capture and handling, winter survival skills and first aid.
“We want to give folks opportunities we didn’t have to get that critical training,” Machowicz said. “We want students to be as prepared as they can be, then they can focus on the science.”
Home Range may offer a women’s-only course at some point, she said. “As women in the field we’ve had to learn to ride snowmobiles, back up a trailer … in front of a lot of men. All of us would be able to tell you some pretty uncomfortable stories as women trying to learn these technical skills,” Machowicz said.
A third focus of Home Range is community engagement in wildlife conservation, which will be led by Becca Windell.
“The community needs to be involved and educated about what’s going on out there on the landscape to create empathy and support for the management that needs to be done,” Vanbianchi said.
Home Range will offer opportunities for community science projects that give citizens a chance to gather research data. One of their planned community science projects, in collaboration with the Methow Conservancy, will recruit community members to conduct black bear natural food surveys.
The surveys will provide data to better understand patterns of black bear conflicts with humans and help inform research related to black bear ecology. As part of the project, internship opportunities will be offered to local high school students.
The Methow Valley is a natural place for community science, Vanbianchi said. “It’s such a fabulous community of outdoorsy people. Doing community science projects not only gets people involved, but it can be helpful for us … to tap into people’s abilities.”
“We wouldn’t be able to do this anywhere else,” Machowicz said. “The three of us meeting here, surrounded by a community that supports us.”
Home Range Wildlife Research will host a launch party and fundraising event at the OSB Taproom at TwispWorks on Oct. 7, 5-8 p.m. The event will feature drinks, appetizers, raffle packages, and a presentation by Home Range co-founders. All funds raised will finance startup costs, the purchase of critical field equipment, program scholarships, and other expenses.