Snapshot Wisconsin to Blanket State with 5,000 Wildlife Cameras

wisconsin wildlife cameras

In an impressive feat of time and patience, Snapshot Wisconsin is a project that plans to pepper the state with between 4,000 and 5,000 motion-activated trail cameras for monitoring the area’s wildlife.

Starting on May 17th, this is “an unprecedented effort to capture in space and time the deer, bears, elk, coyotes, bobcats, badgers and any other wild animal that lumbers, hops, lopes or slithers across the Badger state.” The project is a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), NASA and the University of Wisconsin—Madison. “Snapshot Wisconsin aims to provide one of the richest and most comprehensive caches of wildlife data for any spot on our planet.”

wisconsin wildlife cameras

“Something like this has never been done before, not for such a large area,” said UW–Madison Professor of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, Phil Townsend, one of the leaders of the project. “The number of trail cams and the spatial scale we’re working on will make this project unique.”

So far, 500 cameras have been deployed, mostly in Iowa and Sawyer counties, the first two counties in the state to take part in the initiative. Several hundred more will be deployed in the coming months and more will be added over time as other Wisconsin counties become part of the project.


“What Snapshot Wisconsin really adds is a consistent way to monitor all species,” says Jennifer Stenglein, the DNR project leader. “The consistent monitoring will allow for comparisons among wildlife populations and enable us to better track population changes at larger spatial and temporal scales.”

Funded largely by the Wisconsin DNR and NASA, the photos will be paired up with their satellite image counterparts, thanks to the GPS location tags on each trail camera. This will allow for an overall understanding of the ecology of the area, showing perspectives from both satellites and cameras much closer to the ground.

The DNR is recruiting volunteer citizen scientists who are trained by UW-Extension to operate and maintain the motion-activated camera traps. Stenglein says the agency plans to roll out the program gradually, county by county, to improve the process for volunteers and assess the program’s effectiveness.


“Animals will track the seasons. The greening of the landscape in spring is called the ‘green wave,’ and animal activity will actually track the greening vegetation,” Townsend explains. “Remote sensing using satellites shows what the pattern looks like everywhere.”

A critical research goal is uncovering trends and changes from all of the Snapshot Wisconsin data. The study should, for instance, be able to document over time changes in the extent and duration of snow cover, an index of climate, and how wildlife respond to those changes.


The trail cams will produce millions of photos a year and the Snapshot Wisconsin team is depending on volunteer ‘citizen scientists’ to help crowd source analysis of the pictures by making them available through a portal on Zooniverse, a Web platform for citizen science projects around the world. Developers at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium have been working with UW–Madison ecologist Benjamin Zuckerberg to develop the Snapshot Wisconsin page and protocols for users from around the world to identify animals present in a picture. A soft rollout of data saw 35,000 images classified by volunteers in less than a week.

Anyone interested in hosting a camera on their property can get more information on the Snapshot Wisconsin online signup site.


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