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Something Wild: The Tracker

Dave Anderson
Group gathers for Sue Morse's Keeping track course

This episode was first broadcast on February 27, 2020.

Expert wildlife tracker Susan Morse is A LOT of things:

A life-long naturalist…a Shakespearian scholar…an award winning photographer.

What she is not…is easy to get a hold of.  So with some persistence and a little luck, Something Wild's Dave Anderson and Chris Martin tracked Sue down a few weeks back, before her busy season kicked into high gear.

Which is right about now (late winter) as Sue leads dozens of programs across  New England and beyond—teaching everyday people about wildlife tracking and habitat monitoring techniques.

Aptly named Keeping Track, Sue's program focuses on key species like bobcat, black bear, otter, fisher, and moose-- mammals thought to be really important  within New England's various habitats, and the corridors that connect them.

Credit Dave Anderson
Sue Morse leading a course!

Such wildlife corridors can be found along ridgelines, and around the edge of wetlands--and this knowledge is key to tracking wildlife successfully.

When Sue Morse is teaching a tracking class, they're "not just blindly walking down the trail, hoping to see tracks.  [They're] going deliberately to certain places, EXPECTING to see tracks."

But while a good amount of research and planning goes into Sue’s tracking classes, a little luck never luck never hurt either.

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Warmer winters can add to the challenge of tracking forest critters, as mild temperatures  mean less snowpack…and less snow means footprints can be harder to spot.

But it's important to note that footprints in the snow aren’t the only evidence wildlife-trackers keep an eye out for.  According to Sue, the courses she leads teach students how to "track in each of the four seasons, because animals are leaving sign all the time—they’re communicating with one another, they’re seeking mates, and most importantly they’re feeding. So what are they eating and where?  And what evidence of that can we find?"

At this point, you might be asking yourself…why?

Credit Dave Anderson
Porcupine den

Why do we care what bears are eating, or care that fisher cats are breeding now? And WHO are these people actually taking the time to monitor the comings and goings of moose?

Historically, Sue's students have been middle-aged and elderly citizens interested in the natural world. But in recent years she's seen a marked shift.

"I believe I’ve seen a change in our clients, if for no other reason a greater percentage of them hail from ALL age groups.  And I will say that ALL people today are especially anxious about the conditions of the planet, and feeling that they need to be involved in stewarding the planet."

At its heart, this is what Sue Morse’s Keeping Track is all about: training citizens to look and listen to our natural surroundings; to get everyday folks collecting data, and involved in conservation planning.

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Something Wild is a joint production of NH Audubon, the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, and NHPR. 

Dave Anderson recently attended one of Sue's classes and wrote about his experience. Click here to read on!

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for over 31 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.
Before becoming Program Director, Quirk served as NHPR's production manager. During that time she's voiced and crafted the 'sound of the station,' coordinated countless on-air fundraisers, produced segments for Give Back NH, Something Wild, New Hampshire Calling, and developed NHPR's own NHPR Music vertical with features such as Live from Studio D, and long-loved favorites like Holidays By Request.
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