Rumored to have been a hide out for the Jesse James Gang and one of only two drainages in northern Idaho known to never have been logged; Parker Creek Canyon has an almost mystical reputation. Parker Creek wasn't a dependable refuge for outlaws or spared from the chainsaw for no reason though -- it's a steep, deep, cliff-lined drainage with no easy way in or out of its upper reaches. It turned out that one of our 5x5 km survey cells fell right across upper Parker Creek. This left wildlife technician Scott Rulander and I little option but to figure out how to get to one of the deepest darkest parts of the study area to set up a forest carnivore bait station. The survey cell we traveled through also needed a bait station and it just so happened to contain the high point of the study area known on the map as 7,709. We decided to kill two birds with one stone and run bait stations both near the high point and down in Parker Creek during the same field trips.
After saving a bit of effort by snowmobiling to the edge of the winter motorized restricted area we continued our journey by skiing up the Trout Creek Road about a mile before heading up the summer Fisher Peak Trail. On the first trip in we each carried our overnight camping gear and drug a beaver in a bag behind us. The dog, Mojo, carried our heavy tools including a hammer, screwdriver, and wire cutters.
We were dealing with short February days on our first trip in and didn't make it to our camping spot, a few hundred feet below the high point, until only an hour or so before dark. We knew the next day would be long getting in and out of Parker Creek so decided we had better go ahead and get our first station up. We dropped our overnight gear off at camp and headed up towards the high point. We finished setting up our first station right at dusk and skied back to camp in the dark.
The high elevation point of the study area doesn't look like the craggy Selkirk or Cabinet peaks you might expect like Smith Peak (below). It's a nice, well forested, bump on a ridge. A spot we hoped a high elevation animal like a wolverine might visit as it travels the ridge line.
It was well after dark when we finally got back to camp. Time to melt some snow, warm up a well earned dehydrated meal, and crawl into our sleeping bags.
After a snowy night we woke up to a beautiful blue bird day. We wanted to get moving to warm up so instead of cooking breakfast so we wolfed down energy bars and started climbing the last 400 vertical feet to the saddle above big fisher lake.
Once to the saddle we were rewarded with a nice view of Big Fisher Lake.
On our first trip in we descended directly from the saddle down into Parker Creek. But on our second trip in we figured out we could easily traverse over to the north facing slope above the lake and get a few nice turns in.
You can see where the summer trail comes in to Big Fisher Lake above and to the right of Scott.
As fun as it was, the ski down to and across the lake only took about 10 minutes of our entire trip. It was time to get back to work and face the gnarly task of descending a couple thousand feet to the bottom of Parker Canyon.
Thick trees and extremely steep terrain typified the rest of our descent into Parker Creek. Skiing this type of terrain requires caution. During descents like this Scott and I both have the same mantra rolling through our heads, "don't get hurt."
Cross country travel in the Selkirks often involves navigating around cliff bands. And if cliff bands are typical of the Selkirks, Parker Creek a Selkirk drainage for sure!
Despite our best efforts and a good topographical map we ended up being forced to ski one of these bands on our first trip down. Hauling the beavers up the mountain was hard enough but even more challenging was skiing the cliffs with a 20 pound beaver on my pack!
Occasionally the trees would open up and allow us a view such as this one of Parker Peak.
We also got a nice view of the far upper reaches of Parker Creek. This is what we were shooting for. With rugged surroundings, the flat and forested upper Parker Creek looks like it would be a great place for forest carnivores to live or travel.
What's easy travel for animals is also easy travel for us and we were happy to finally make it to the flat open bottom of the drainage.
Even in February Parker Creek was still flowing at 5,500 feet.
We were happy to be at the bottom, but daylight was burning and we had to get our work done quickly so we could get back to the snowmobiles by dark.
On our return trip to take down the stations we found the Parker Creek beaver chewed to just a skeleton. This was highly indicative of the martens we often get at sets and reviewing the pictures revealed our guess was correct.
Most of our 1,200 photos were of this pair of martens which spent weeks enjoying the feast Scott and I had brought them.
We also got some pictures of a Clark's Nutcracker.
When we finally made it back to the station a couple hundred feet below the high point we arrived to find our bait untouched and just one white tuft of hair on a gunbrush. We reviewed the pictures and found a marten had visited the set, but never went to the bait.
And that white tuft of hair? You guessed it...one very hard core snowshoe hare.
After collecting that hare sample Scott and I were happy to ski off the high point and back to the snowmobiles for the last time of the winter.
When it was all said and done Scott and I had climbed 11,800 vertical feet and skied 24 miles to complete these stations. While we were disappointed all of this effort did not result in the detection of one of our target Species of Greatest Conservation Need (wolverine, lynx, or fisher) we know our efforts were not wasted. Each and every detection of one of MBI's 20 target survey species is valuable as we assess their conservation needs across the region - and the only way to find rare species is to look in every nook and cranny of the study area.
In just a few short years our efforts have resulted in substantial new baseline knowledge of our study species. This new knowledge includes documenting resident wolverine in the Selkirks and resident lynx in the Purcells. We have documented the occasional fisher outside of the West Cabinets and documented 29 individual fisher in the West Cabinets. We are collecting an exceptional number of observations of more common species such as marten. Our goal is to develop baseline datasets on all of the species we are detecting so that future survey efforts can document changes in the abundance and distribution of both common and rare species. We strive to develop meaningful conservation actions for rare species and to help keep common species common.
Most of our survey cells have enough roads we can establish several bait stations in a day. This is great for productivity, but it's also important we follow our sampling design and make sure we get bait stations up in all of our survey cells, even if they are difficult to access. And we always have to remember that while we don't detect a rare species at every station, every time we try we do get to we get to see what's out there...