Western Gray Squirrel Project

Pacific Biodiversity Institute started a research and education project in 2009 to study western gray squirrels, a state threatened species, in the Methow Valley. After three years, this project demonstrates the value of citizen science volunteers in conducting important research. Each year began the season with a volunteer training workshop and ended with a celebration of the research season where we all shared our experiences. Details about the June 2011 workshop are here and photos of the 2011 workshop are here.

The gray squirrel project began in 2010 with 18 volunteers, who placed 174 sampling tubes to discover 17 locations of western gray squirrels, five of them in new areas where gray squirrels had never been seen before. In 2011 we extended sampling efforts into new areas. Click here to view a gallery of 2011 events. In 2011 we also conducted a related experiment to determine how the squirrels behave toward various sizes of hair tubes. This experiment produced a number of videos showing how the squirrels interact with the hair tubes. Click here to view the videos. In 2012, we again extended sampling, and continued to refine the information on known sites with follow-up visits.


image News updates on the western gray squirrel project in the Methow

image Volunteer resource page

image One-page background summary of western gray squirrel biology

Read the final report describing three years of western gray squirrel research: Western Gray Squirrel Distribution in the Upper Methow Valley, Washington 2010-2012 by Pacific Biodiversity Institute.

The 2011 report is still available at this link: Citizen Science Research Report on Western Gray Squirrel Distribution in the Upper Methow Valley, by Asako Yamamuro, Kim Romain-Bondi, and Peter Morrison.

The western gray squirrel project has been the subject of several articles in the Methow Valley News and Wenatchee World. The project was originally described in the December 2009 Methow Valley News. In 2010, volunteers participated in several events including a March 5 workshop to build sampling tubes and a March 20 field workshop.

How might you get involved? PBI is interested in engaging volunteers who will help deploy hundreds of non-invasive hair-tubes, which will be used to detect western gray squirrels and determine their distribution in the Methow Valley.

image Learn more about volunteering as a citizen science volunteer on this project.

The goal of the western gray squirrel project is to help Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) gain a better understanding of the extent of western gray squirrel presence in the Methow Valley and to involve the public in conservation efforts to help insure the survival of western gray squirrels. PBI is working in partnership with WDFW, conducting non-invasive hair-tube distribution surveys.

Volunteers include local landowners with prime western gray squirrel habitat on their property. The more information people know about western gray squirrels and their habitat, the more likely they will be to take an interest in managing the landscape for this rare squirrel as well as other wildlife species dependent on ponderosa pine forests. The Methow Conservancy is especially interested in this aspect of the western gray squirrel project, informing landowners about stewardship of western gray squirrels throughout the Methow Valley.

The sampling technique attracts western gray squirrels into an open-ended PVC tube using their favorite food, walnuts.  When the animal enters the tube, sticky tape attached to the inside of the tubing collects hair, which can be identified to species either with a trained eye or under a microscope.  When a positive identification of western gray squirrel is found, we then conduct follow-up nest surveys to identify how robust the population may be in that area.

western gray squirrel at sampling tube

The western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus) is listed as a state-threatened species in Washington State, as a species of concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and as a sensitive species and management indicator species by the US Forest Service. Read more about western gray squirrel conservation and research efforts here.

We encourage folks to call in reputable sightings and locations for these rare squirrels, particularly if the animals are hit on the road. We will follow-up on these sightings concurrently with our survey and educational outreach project.

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