By Luke Lamar
Conservation Director, Swan Valley Connections 

The value of animal tracks and sign skills


November 29, 2018

Luke Lamar, Swan Valley Connections

Lynx tracks in the snow.

There is an incredible array of animal tracks and sign to be discovered in nature. Some are obvious and some are very subtle. Footprints, droppings, scrapes on trees and foraging sign are just a few things that can provide clues about an animal species' presence and how it uses a given area. Learning and honing animal tracks and sign skills is an art that challenges the human sensory system and requires no technology.

Tracks can be found any time of the year on many substrates (snow, dust, sand, mud, etc). You can learn an incredible amount about a place by observing tracks and sign. A deeper appreciation of how an animal relates to plant communities, water, weather, seasons and other species grows with tracking skills. Ultimately, tracking skills create a greater understanding of ecosystem functions.

Part of tracking an animal is piecing clues together into a story. Chances are, the puzzle will never be complete, and the animal will not be directly observed. But tracking an animal reveals details and scenes that are rarely noticed yet can be extremely valuable.


I've only witnessed wolverines for several seconds in my life, but I've learned a great deal about their behavior and life history from spending countless hours tracking them. They are very solitary and mysterious critters about which the scientific community still has much to learn.

I've learned that they like to scavenge dead animals, cache meat and bones in snowy holes often directly on or under ice, are capable of taking down a mule deer, actively scent mark their territory boundaries, and are much more sociable than previously understood.

I've learned these things, and many more, from following their tracks. By tracking them, I've gotten to know their behaviors, habitat needs and relationships with other plant and animal species. I've gained a true appreciation for them and their tracks have led me on a quest to discover more.

I've begun to read books and scientific papers to help tie together what I've learned about them on the ground. Ultimately, tracking has led me to be more interested and aware of wolverine conservation and their environment, as it has for all species whose tracks and sign I've observed.

At Swan Valley Connections, we want to provide an opportunity to connect people to the outdoor world and foster an appreciation for conservation. SVC teaches animal tracks and sign classes to all ages and abilities. In 2019, SVC is offering tracks and sign classes on Jan. 26, March 9, and April 13. Please contact us to sign up, 406-754-3137 or email

Luke Lamar, Swan Valley Connections

A bird takes flight leaving behind tracks in the snow.


Reader Comments

brent writes:

Good job Luke!!! So much can be learned from observation wildlife behavior, and the signs they leave behind... We are lucky to have SVC in the Swan Valley...keep up the great work!!!


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