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Our Wisconsin charter school uses scientific research and project-based learning as the focus of our curriculum. Project learning is based on a constructivist model of learning that engages you in real-world scholarly activity because you get to chose topics that interest you.
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Following a Fisher

Posted on January 25, 2012 by Austin D., 11th Grade

There are many animals that roam the grounds of the Beaver Creek Reserve, but the fisher has to be one of the fiercest animals on the reserve. This animal is nearly fearless, and if it feels threatened it will try to rip your arm off. How would you like to be the one to deal with one of these things in a live trap? The members of my group project and I dealt with not only one of these animals, but with three of them: each one was as mean as could be. Two out of the three fishers we caught have radio telemetry collars on them and are roaming the area once again. One of them is a ten and a half pound male that we nicknamed "Tank" and the other is a 6 and a half pound female that we nicknamed  "Grizzy". For the rest of the year, Tank and Grizzy will be our subjects of study as we attempt to study the range of area, the habitat, and patterns of movement fisher's display in their environment.

FisherThis project began about two years ago when a couple of students wanted to do a project on fisher movements using radio telemetry gear provided by Wildlands School. The project had been unsuccessful because the students kept having troubles actually catching a fisher. They found that it's very difficult to start a project on the movements of fishers when your traps keep catching raccoons. After catching so many raccoons, the students began to wonder if there were even any fishers moving around Beaver Creek to begin with, so they gave up. The first step to starting this project was actually catching a fisher. This was the task that proved the most challenging because you can't start a project on fishers when all you catch are raccoons. It seemed that in the past all the raccoons had made their way to the traps before any fishers could even get there, so how could we get past this? With a little help from Mr. Tweed and my Uncle Jim, we came up with the idea to use Cuddieback trail cameras to first prove that there were in fact fishers on the reserve and secondly, to find out if they would take bait from a trap.

We set out four traps that were zip-tied open, with trail cameras posted on all of the traps that had been baited with deer scraps. Within about a week and a half we got our first picture of a fisher taking bait from the traps, and about a week later we caught our first fisher. The beginning of our project was complete and now the biggest part could begin.

We're currently using a receiver box, amplifying antenna, compass, and G.P.S to track our animals. Each time we go out to find the fishers, we use the receiver box and antenna to pick up the animal. If the animal is in the receiver box's range, the box will beep. We then use the G.P.S to mark our location and the compass to find two different angles that point to where the fisher could be. To find the angles we have move the antenna in one direction until the beeping stops, take an angle with the compass, and then find the angle where the beeping stops on the opposite side. We take points from three different locations and once we have our three points we can use ARC GIS (a computer mapping program) to put in our angles from the locations we marked. If we have taken the correct angles, then the lines should either intersect to give us an exact point of location, or a small general area where the fisher is located. We try to take points for each fisher at least twice a week so that we will have sufficient data to make our final product; a map of both fishers' movements where all the points are connected to find an estimated range of movement. So far, the biggest problem we've had with our system is, sometimes they just aren't on radar, due to the fact they live in trees and that can affect our box's ability to pick them up, or power lines give off interference.

We've done a lot of work so far and collected great data for both fishers now that we have found out their general area of living. The big question still remains; how is our final product going to turn out? Our expectations are that by putting in all our time and hard work in this project that we will have enough points to make a range map of how the fishers have moved since they were first caught on the Beaver Creek Reserve. So far we've found out that the male tends to run anywhere between Big Falls, Beaver Creek, County Road Q, and County Road SS, and the female usually stays near the creek bottoms that run west of Beaver Creek. We haven't had the chance to look for the fishers at night. We hope that we could do that sometime in the future in order to find out if they move differently during the night than during the day. Fishers are a fairly nocturnal animal so they will be more active during the night and could potentially move a longer distance away from any points we currently have. This project has been a lot of fun so far and we've all learned a lot about different aspects of the nature of fishers. We are all really excited to learn more about Tank and Grizzy. We plan to learn a lot more about a truly amazing animal.

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