MARIN COUNTY, Calif. -- A curious fox, a close-up snapshot of a bobcat and mountain lions prowling at night are just some of the candid wildlife photos captured by the new Marin Wildlife Picture Index Project (WPI).
While still relatively new, the project is already helping for biologists and the county, CBS San Francisco reports.
"This is the first time it's been used in North America and we are looking at how wildlife is doing and what it's doing in our natural lands," said Mischon Martin with Marin County's Department of Natural Resources and Science.
A WPI is a worldwide index that catalogs wildlife from a system of cameras placed at regular intervals through Marin County and in parts of Somona County. This system is the largest currently in operation, serving as a window into a world off the beaten path.
"It's interesting. It's an opportunity to capture a little bit more of the stuff we don't see every day," said Marin camper Scott Bullard.
Beyond the wow factor, the index helps the county plan for its land management approach.
The contents of more than half a million cataloged photographs have already identified rare species they didn't know existed here. The photos also provide proof that Marin County's ecosystem is alive and well.
"We found a few species we didn't know existed. We found a spotted skunk and a river otter. We're still holding out for a porcupine, but we haven't (seen) one on camera," said Martin.
The project is in its third year. The data collected will show long term trends among the animals and then begin to shape the way the county approaches its open space, basing decisions on science that stemmed from snapshots
"The outdoors is a really big part of who we are as a county going back for hundreds and hundreds of years, said Bullard. There's a reason for the preservation of open space. Any chance that we get to show the value of that is fantastic."
The project is sustained by volunteers who catalog images and maintain the cameras. The county says it is always looking for more people to join the ranks. Interested parties can go to the website for more information.