Intuitively, Mark Schiltz knew that a lot of wildlife used his family’s property up on Wolf Creek in the Swan Valley near Bigfork. He could see sign and tracks. But he did not see many of the critters themselves.
Then he had an idea: what about setting up a game camera in likely crossing places?
“I started to set out the cameras and honestly, I was amazed by what I got back,” said Mark, who is the Western Manager for The Montana Land Reliance (MLR).
In the late 1940s, Mark’s family purchased a section of ground on Wolf Creek, a piece of ground that is in a corridor to the Jewell Basin Hiking Area in the Swan Range. After Mark became a Land Reliance employee, the family placed a conservation easement on the ground, protecting it forever from development. But only after Mark saw the results from his game camera, did the family realize just how important that easement was for wildlife.
In frame after frame, Mark’s game camera revealed deer, moose, bear, mountain lions, and all kinds of wild bird life. “It has really become a fun thing for me to do, just to see what I’ve gotten in the game camera, it’s like Christmas morning because you never know what you’re going to get,” he said.
As a result, the Schiltz family has come to know their land in ways they never have before. “Sure, you think you have wildlife, but until you can start seeing that, you don’t really know,” said Mark. “I’m up there checking those cameras a lot, but it’s really fun for other members of the family because I can email them photos or videos of the wildlife and they just really
Mark has taken the idea of game cameras into his job at the Land Reliance. “Landowners really just get a kick out of seeing what is on their property and they just learn the property in a whole different way,” said Mark. “You can move the cameras around and learn where the hot spots for wildlife are. You just get connected to the land in such a different way.”
Several landowners in the western region have gotten help in setting up a game camera to capture wildlife images, which helps them connect to the land and its wild inhabitants in whole new ways. On one property outside Kalispell in particular, it is a regular occurrence to get images and video of bear and lions.
“For some reason on this one particular old road, you just get great footage of lions just walking right past the camera,” said Mark. “The landowner loves it.”
Mark’s goal is to be able to post game camera shots and video from MLR’s various conservation easements onto the Land Reliance website, allowing landowners to share the wildlife on their properties.
“Usually, you’ll see wildlife, but they’ll be running the other way,” said Mark. “But with a game camera, you can just observe them as they are without any disturbance. Especially on video, you see all kinds of things you aren’t going to see otherwise.”