Night Secrets of Jasper Ridge

December 14, 2011

Just south of our Town lies the biological wonderland of Jasper Ridge, a protected 1,200 acre preserve of native species of plants and animals, owned and studied by Stanford University. The preserve Searsville Lake as well as the headwaters of San Francisquito Creek, and has incredibly diverse geology and ecology.

The preserve has been immensely valuable to science, with hundreds of studies and papers referencing research done at Jasper Ridge, as well as being important for wildlife conservation.

A large portion of the ongoing story of Jasper Ridge was long hidden from scientists. Until recently, its nightlife has remained a mystery. Tracking movements of animals at night had been left to the age-old difficult art of examining paw prints and spoor. This has been left a void, since many of the most interesting creatures at the biological preserve are nocturnal. Luckily, a new project has changed all that and generated amazing photographs of our nighttime neighbors.

As described in the University’s Stanford Report, in September 2009, a network of more than 20 motion-activated infrared cameras was put in place under the direction of Trevor Hebet, the data manager at the preserve. Within a short time, they hit the jackpot with dozens of images of elusive mountain lions, previously rarely seen within the preserve. The cameras take pictures in color during the day and in ghostly-looking black and white at night.

The incredible still images of the nightlife (and their daytime cousins) at Jasper Ridge can be seen here, and videos of bobcats, deer, mountain lions, and that great horned owl can be viewed here.

A consulting team of five graduate students and postdocs was put into place to study the habits of the mountain lions at Jasper Ridge and determine the risk of humans meeting lions in the preserve. They found that lions are active in the preserve about a quarter of the day, but that “there are likely at most only one male, one female and possibly several cubs whose territory includes the preserve.” They downplayed the risk of any attack, saying “”Based on historical statewide data, the annual risk of being attacked by a mountain lion in Jasper Ridge is 1 in 10 million.” The full report is posted on line here.

Jasper Ridge is an amazing, beautiful place, and we’re lucky to have it so close to our Town. While self-guided hiking is forbidden, during the school year (October 1st through May 31st), the Preserve holds tours on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. More details on tours are available here at the Preserve’s website here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *