MAZINA’IGAN PAGE 14 • WAABIZHESHI • (see Waabizheshi, page 18) Red-backed vole. (©Alex Lamoreaux, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)) Waabizheshi study combats Wisconsin cold, snow with culverts By Abi Fergus, For Mazina’igan Six GLIFWC employees and a graduate student lug culvert pieces off of a dirt road and into the forest. The group stakes down the insulated tubes in a grid and then repeats the process in additional hemlock and hardwood stands. The 150 culvert pieces are key elements to a study that builds on more than 30 years of waabizheshi (Martes americana, or American marten) research by GLIFWC. “This research is a piece of the puzzle,” said TanyaAldred, GLIFWC furbearer and climate change biologist. The culvert towers will house live traps for small mammals this winter during a study on waabizheshi prey density. “Not much small mammal trapping has been done in the winter, because it’s hard to keep animals warm,” said Aldred. To overcome this issue and Wisconsin snow, the researchers are using culverts, insulation foam, and hand warmers as a buffer between the traps and the winter cold, according to Aldred. Winter track surveys are used to study waabizheshi, according to Aldred. Summer density studies have been used to study small mammal density, so the seasonality of the data doesn’t align with marten research. To better understand the density and quality of waabizheshi’s prey, the researchers are exploring winter and summer small mammal densities for the first time, according to Aldred. Waabizheshi became extinct in Wisconsin during the 1930s, because of unregulated trapping, timber harvest, and forest fires, according to a 2016-17 progress report by GLIFWC. Between 1975 and 1990, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest reintroduced 172 martens into the Eagle River district and 139 martens into the Great Divide district. Between 2008 and 2010, 90 more martens were stocked in the Great Divide district. The Great Divide district is surrounded by the Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles, and Lac du Flambeau reservations. Despite these efforts, marten populations in Wisconsin have not grown the way they were expected to. This causes concern for biological and cultural reasons. “The clan system is important to our governance,” said Dylan Jennings, mem- ber of waabizheshi clan, or doodem. “The clan system used to be a lot stronger prior to European contact and the signing of treaties. It helped us stay organized and function as a society. In marten clan, we are strategists and warriors. The clan system is still very relevant today. Nowadays we engage in protection of our way of life—protecting culture and language. Martens are very tough and evasive creatures—that’s how our warriors are.” Allison Scott, a graduate student in the Wildlife Ecology program and Jona- than Pauli’s Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said that while animals are surviving, marten recovery in northern Wisconsin has been slow. Scott is conducting the small mammal density study, which depends on the success of the culvert warmers. During two 10-day trials in January, she will check the traps and identify small mammals found within them. The findings may help the research- ers understand why waabizheshi recovery has not happened at the anticipated rate based on prey availability. “Red-backedvolesarethemarten’shighestqualityfood,”saidScott.“[They’ve beenfound]eatingshrews,miceanddeercarcasses—notthehighestqualityfood.” Studying prey density will help Scott and other collaborators understand whether waabizheshi’s diet is affecting its re-population rate. A lack of preferred prey, in this case the red-backed vole, could limit waabizheshi numbers, according to Scott.Another aspect of Scott’s research project is comparing prey density before and after a timber harvest. Findings from this facet of the study could help illuminate how human activity is affecting waabi- zheshi restoration. “Martens are important to eco- system stability,” Scott said. “Small mammalsareatthebottomofthefood chain, not just for the marten. They also are important to seed dispersal and studying climate change. We’re at the southern extent of the red-backed vole’s range, so they might be pushed north due to climate change.” Scott hopes to give forest managers information, based on this study, on how to preserve habitat for waabizheshi and its prey. Jon Gilbert, GLIFWC biological services director, developed the research project utilizing culverts in collaboration with Jonathan Pauli of the Pauli Lab.The culverts were tested by GLIFWC employees, with success, over the past two years, according to Gilbert. Trail camera rigs showed various small mammal entering holes at the bottom of the towers to eat sunflower seeds that were placed inside. “The long-term goal is understanding of waabizheshi,” said Gilbert. “It’s the only mammal listed as endangered in Wisconsin. Michigan and Minnesota have plenty of martens, so much so that they have a trapping season.” Gilbert placed the Michigan and Minnesota populations in the 1000s. Waabi- zheshi’s population size in Wisconsin is not fully understood, but Gilbert said it’s estimated that there are less than 100 in the Great Divide District. The Eagle River district population may be about 200, and is connected to Michigan’s marten range. “[The marten’s historical range in Wisconsin] may have went as far south as Wausau,” said Gilbert. “Today there’s suitable habitat that they’re not using.” Hemlock stands have been found to be favorable to martens, according to Gilbert. This study on prey availability may help to answer why waabizheshi is not occupying more of this forest type in Wisconsin. Another factor that may be suppressing marten populations is competition with ojiig (Pekania pennanti, or fishers). “We’re at the southern end of the marten’s range,” said Gilbert. “Any little change can force them north and would have negative consequences. Fishers kill martens. They don’t like to eat them, but they’re competition.” While martens and fishers coexist elsewhere in North America, they don’t seem to segregate their habitat so they can do the same in Wisconsin, according to Gilbert. This may be related to climate change. “Martens have fur on their feet that act like snowshoes, so they can navigate deep fluffy snow” said Gilbert. “Fishers are much bigger and don’t have fur on their feet, so they can’t navigate deep fluffy snow.As it gets warmer, we get crusty snow that makes fishers able to go anywhere.” Allison Scott (right), University of Wisconsin graduate student and GLIFWC’s Ron Parisian prepare a small mammal trap in a hemlock forest near Clam Lake, Wisconsin. (A. Fergus photo) GLIFWC Wildlfe Biologist Tanya Aldred (second from right) issues instructions to a GLIFWC crew that installed Sherman small mammal traps within sections of culverts across a grid in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (A.Fergus photo)