Project CAT (Cougars and Teaching)
A Unique Collaborative Project Between Schools and Researchers
The NatureMapping Program was one of the Project CAT's Partners along with
Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife, The Cle Elum/Roslyn School District, Cle Elum and Roslyn Community Members, University of Washington, and Central Washington University.
Project CAT in designed to provide collaborative
research on cougars in rural and suburban settings to better understand
cougar-human interactions. K-12 students, teachers and local community members
assisted researchers in this extensive study of regional cougar populations.
Project CAT was an eight year study that was going to involve three regions/locales in Washington State.
The program's initial location was in the Cle Elum area. Here cougars and community mutually coexist in an area which provides
quality habitat and open spaces for both.
The study also tried to understand the dynamics of secondary predators (fox, coyote, bobcat, black bear) and prey
populations (elk, deer, and small mammals), which interact with the cougars. This will be done by enlisting the help of K-12 and graduate students.
They were taught observation and tracking skills while at the same time learned the ecology of the area.
The result provided a better understanding of these interactions for developing strategies
for managing human development.
The Education Component
This project was an avenue for traditional research methods to blend with the direction
of current education strategies. Margaret Tudor was the education
director for the WDFW and NatureMapping co-director. She helped integrate The
NatureMapping Program's curriculum for the Cle Elum School District as it addressed
the Washington State Standards for Learning.
Integrating real-life research into current curriculum provided positive opportunities and experiences for the students, teachers and
K-12 students were involved in different components of the
project. Selected high school students were involved in the actual radio collaring and tracking
for each of the study cougars. Younger students reported data on primary and secondary prey species such as deer and rabbits. The students recorded animal tracks, what they ate and even identify, record, and collect scat for analysis by researchers.
Students were evaluated on their ability to read tracks around their homes. Their data were compared with professionals reading the same tracks and the students data were very similar to the researchers. This test proved, that with adequate training, students can provide high quality data.
CyberTracker was and still is a new-age data collection tool, using a sequence of screens containing icons developed by the NatureMapping
Program for use in Project CAT. NatureTracker, the sequence, works on smart phones, androids, and tablets. Its icon-driven screens ask for specific
information while as the same time queing the data collector for a variety of ecological information.
The sequence has been expanded to multiple states and all taxa.
Through The NatureMapping Program, researchers are learning the value of involving students and communities in data collection.