Tracking Wildlife in the Yale Woods

By Sara Rose Tannenbaum and Hale Morrell

Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.

wildlife tracking yale forest
At Yale-Myers Forest a few weeks ago, fourth-generation forester and wildlife researcher Sue Morse poked her hiking pole at the yellow stained snow. Bringing the tip of the pole to her mouth, she breathed out to activate the scent molecules. Morse sniffed and said, “If the urine smells like a skunk, it’s a fox.” A fox it was. There, in the snow were delicate nail lines of the print to prove it. As the group huddled to examine the track, she gave us another clue. She drew an “x” between the foot and the toe pads to distinguish this canine track from the “m” shape of a feline.
tannenbaum wildlife tracking yale forest <span style="color: rgb(68, 68, 68); font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; line-height: 18px; text-align: justify;">Sue Morse, tracker and founder of Keeping Track, leads a winter tracking workshop at Yale-Myers Forest.</span>
Despite bitter cold, nine F&ES students joined Morse, of the Vermont-based organization Keeping Track, for a half-day wildlife tracking workshop in the Yale forest, located in northeastern Connecticut. Founded by Morse in 1994, Keeping Track helps conserve key wildlife habitats in North American through outreach, research, and education. Students partnered with the Yale School Forest’s Quiet Corner Initiative to invite Keeping Track to teach us the life histories of local wildlife like black bears, bobcat, red fox, gray fox, and white-tailed deer.

During the workshop, a Keeping Track intern got down on all fours to demonstrate different animal strides. This only begins to highlight how this opportunity provided something that F&ES students seek: hands-on, experiential learning. With Morse and her interns as our guides we saw playful otter slides and deer scrapes at Bigelow Hollow State Park. Then we drove down Kinney Hollow Road to visit an ideal bobcat habitat in the boulders of the Yale-Myers Forest, one of our best and favorite outdoor classrooms.

At the end of a cold day in the field we warmed up inside the Union Town Hall over a potluck dinner. There we saw amazing slides of Morse’s wildlife photography and discussed how humans shape the natural history of New England. We left with professional inspiration and a heightened appreciation for how to track and manage for the creatures living in the woods around us. As Morse says, “Good forestry is good for wildlife.”

Speaking of good: One of our fellow students rushed home to apply for Big Ticket Funding to bring Morse back, so F&ES-ers will have another opportunity to learn wildlife tracking at the Yale-Myers Forest.

About the Authors

Sara Rose Tannenbaum ’16 M.E.M. is a first-year student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Hale Morrell ’15 M.E.Sc. is a second-year student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.