Sarah Spaeth admires a set of black bear marks on the trunk of a tree at one of our preserves at the Duckabush River. Photo by Jessica Plumb.
While touring Valley View Forest just before it opened to the public, Sarah noticed the tracks of a dog and a deer side by side on the loop trail.
Sarah Spaeth, Director of Conservation and Strategic Partnerships for the Land Trust has taken her love of wildlife tracking to the next level. In October, she became one of five women and less than 50 North Americans to be recognized as a certified Track and Sign Specialist. To do so, Sarah underwent a rigorous evaluation through Cybertracker, an international organization recognized as the gold standard for tracker training and certification across Africa, Europe, and North America. The evaluations are entirely field-based and individuals must pass with 100% to be certified as a specialist.
Sarah has been studying wildlife tracking for the past seven years and working with the Land Trust to protect important wildlife habitat for the last 25 years. “I knew land protection and wildlife corridors were important for salmon and other creatures. What happened when I started tracking was this eye-opening moment of, ‘oh my gosh, the signs are written on the landscape’.” She points out how these wildlife tracks and signs are an alphabet — the first alphabet that humans had to learn to interpret in order to survive. “We had to understand who was moving across the land, where they were going, and if they were a predator.”
On a recent visit to Valley View Forest, Sarah displayed the new Track and Sign Specialist patch she’d recently added to her Land Trust hat.
The Cybertracker Specialist evaluation took place over two days on the northwest edge of the Olympic Peninsula and in the Dosewallips area. Sarah felt proud to have the evaluation take place on the land she calls home and believes it may be the first time it has ever been held here. Candidates were required to assess signs such as scrape marks, tracks, scat, and dead fish by which they had to answer difficult questions related to animal movement and behavior. They observed signs of bear, cougar, elk, mink, bobcat, otter, raccoon and others.
Sarah recognizes this intricate practice as a lifelong learning journey. She credits the remarkable mentor support she has received from David Moskowitz (author of Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest), and her teachers at the Wilderness Awareness School, where she has studied and assisted with education programs.
A plaster cast of the side-by-side dog and deer tracks found at Valley View Forest.
For Sarah, the practice of tracking confirms the importance of the Land Trust’s work: “It affirms that, in fact, these animals are here, and we can see evidence of their presence by reading the landscape. It really prompts you to become a student of animal behavior and begin to ask questions. Having even rudimentary skills of observation and animal tracking gives me greater appreciation for the place we live in. We share the Earth with magnificent creatures and there’s this web between all of the creatures and we are part of it. We are not separate from it.”
Sarah’s journey with wildlife tracking and observation involves sharing these skills with our community. She has contributed her knowledge through the Land Trust’s Nature in Your Neighborhood series and other programs, as well in classes she leads for CedarRoot Folk School. She looks forward to future opportunities to share her knowledge and tracking skills with the Land Trust community.
Congratulations to Sarah on this terrific accomplishment!
We were able to capture Sarah making a plaster cast of the side-by-side dog and deer tracks at Valley View Forest in the short (just over 3-minute) video below.
If you’re interested in learning more about wildlife tracking, check out the video below. As part of the Land Trust’s Nature in Your Neighborhood program, Sarah Spaeth led this Extending Your Reach presentation on Wildlife Tracking.