1960 - Tracking Technology

The first radio collars were used in Idaho in the 1970’s on an elk study in the Clearwater River country. That study provided baseline data on elk use of the Clearwater River prior to the Dworshak dam being built.

Up until the 1960 and 70’s, biologists’ information was based on direct observation of wildlife behavior.  Radio telemetry changed all this with the new ability to track an animal day or night, winter or summer, in remote areas or in someone’s back yard.  Telemetry provided biologists with a signal that could hone the location using triangulation, direct line-of-site, or aerially.  They were able to develop home ranges, identify migration corridors, learn secretive behavior, collect foraging data, locate bear dens, identify mortality and birth rates, and conduct countless studies limited only by the imagination of graduate students and biologists.  Telemetry has been used on every species of big game animal in Idaho, game birds, nongame, fish, and anything big enough to carry the smallest transmitters

Because transmitters are put on live animals, this necessitated the development of ways to temporarily immobilize these animals.  As a necessary ingredient to collaring wild animals, immobilizing drugs were developed at about the same time as telemetry gear. Like telemetry, these chemicals have also been greatly improved to be more efficient and safer for both animals and humans.

The arrival of radio telemetry also inspired a new generation of wildlife biologists.  They grew up on National Geographic  specials on research pioneers  like John and Frank Craighead.  These two brothers were the first to put radio collars on grizzly bears in Yellowstone in the 1960’s.  Their story and the excitement of placing radio collars on wildlife captured the interest of budding wildlife biologists.

There are many wildlife research and management technologies that have greatly enhanced our ability to understand wildlife behavior and how they use their habitat; none more than radio telemetry Hunting, fishing, and wildlife management have all been greatly enhanced because of this remarkable technological advancement.

Technology Timeline:

  • 1938-1956  Idaho Fish and Game biologists collected information using big game winter ground surveys, wildlife track counts, pellet counts, fixed wing aerial counts.
  • 1950’s - First 4-wheel drive vehicles used by Idaho Fish and Game.
  • 1958 - Helicopters first used for counting big game.
  • 1959 - Snow cats used for winter feeding and travel.
  • 1962 - Development of radio collars for tracking free ranging animals.
  • 1960’s - Development of immobilization chemicals and projectiles. Snowmobiles first used for winter work.
  • 1970’s - VHF radio collars used for big game, computer programming/analysis available at universities
  • 1980’s - Computer population modeling software and word processing, night vision goggles.
  • 1990’s - Computers on every desk at Idaho Fish and Game, DNA analysis for population estimates, GPS satellite location units, GIS (spatial analysis using satellite imagery and computer technology and software.)
  • 2000’s - First satellite GPS collars, GPS collars using real-time remote downloads from computers, topographic software, satellite mapping and tracking software for handheld devices,
  • 2010’s - Experimental tests of drone aircraft for wildlife and fish redd counts.