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"Long-term studies of elk, deer, and cattle - examining the effects of ungulates on ecosystems"
 

 

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Automated Animal Tracking System


WHAT IS AN AUTOMATED RADIOTELEMETRY SYSTEM?

An automated radio telemetry system automatically tracks locations with computers, which requires less fieldwork from biologists. The system uses Loran-C technology, the same technology used by the Coast Guard, Navy, and other maritime vessels to pin-point their locations in the ocean.*

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WHY IS AN AUTOMATED SYSTEM NEEDED?

Regularly monitoring animal movements helps researchers answer questions about the response of deer and elk to intensive timber management, cattle grazing, vehicle traffic and hunting on National Forests. The Loran-C tracking system provides the most accurate, efficient and cost-effective vehicle, for recording animal movements over several years.

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WHAT ARE THE SYSTEM COMPONENTS?

The automated animal tracking system begins and ends with a computer, and consists of five towers that average 150 feet in height, two base station computer systems linked to Loran-C hardware. and 180 collared animals. The collars contain Loran-C receivers, VHF transmitters, pagers, and batteries with an 16-month life. While these batteries can power the units for 2 full May through mid-December field seasons, they are changed whenever possible to insure adequate coverage. The electronics are connected to a rubberized strip and fitted into PVC pipe. The pipe is heated and molded around one of several forms, depending on the size and species of animal the collar will be used for. Each collar weighs less than three pounds, and is weather and shock resistant.

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HOW DOES THE SYSTEM WORK?

A base station computer sends out a location request to a different collar every 20 seconds. Once a collar receives the computer's signal, a pager inside the collar turns on a transmitter and receiver. During the next 10 seconds, the receiver collects Loran-C signals from six out-of-state Loran towers located in Havre, Montana; Williams Lake, British Columbia; George, Washington; Fallon, Nevada; Searchlight, Nevada; and Middleton, California. The transmitter inside the animal's collar then sends the signals to one of Starkey's field station towers. The tower, in turn, retransmits the signals over a microwave link to the base station's Loran-C hardware. Positioning software translates the Loran signals into Northing and Easting coordinates, and then computes locations using differential statistics.

The locations are stored on a hard drive in the computer and later archived to tape. They can also be displayed in real-time on an interactive computerized map in relation to roads, and to forage and other habitat features.

The telemetry system at Starkey can compute one location every 20 seconds, day and night, and is accurate to within 50 meters. By the end of the 10 year study, the automated tracking system will have generated more than four million locations--over 100 times more than are capable using conventional tracking methods. Traditionally, researchers use headsets and antennae to judge the signal strength and bearing of collared animals, often spending hours to determine a single location.

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CAN THE SYSTEM PROVIDE ADDITIONAL INFORMATION?

Time and air temperature readings are also provided with each animal location. In addition, the system at Starkey is capable of transmitting pulse rates from animals equipped with special heart monitors.

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HOW MUCH DOES THE SYSTEM COST?

Implementation costs are approximately $1.3 million. With the automated telemetry system, each subject location costs less than $1, compared to over $75 per location with conventional tracking methods.

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CAN THE SYSTEM BE USED FOR OTHER RESEARCH?

The automated telemetry system can be implemented to meet the needs of many other studies. (For additional information about the automated animal tracking system, contact Marty Vavra, Forest Service.)

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* The automated animal tracking system used at Starkey was designed and built by the USDA Forest Service and the Navigation and Weather Division of Tracor Aerospace, Inc., in Austin, Texas. (This information is given for the convenience of the reader and does not constitute official endorsement by the US Department of Agriculture of this firm to the exclusion of others that may be suitable.)
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