Most Recent Possible Sightings

Confirmed Sighting: May 9 2012, north Chevy Chase. [2011]December 11, neighborhood outside Colombia Country Club. October 20, Colombia Country Club. September 14, Candy Cane City and into Rock Creek Park. September 7 or 8, Brookville and Shepherd in Chevy Chase, and then back south on Connecticut to Chevy Chase circle (where she is getting water, we believe). August 28th, on Thornapple in Chevy Chase, and then headed south on Connecticut!

(For other sightings, see archive at the bottom of the page.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Exploring Winter Trap Monitoring - Email us to be added to discussion

Since we decided that we would not place a trap in the cold weather, a number of people have asked us about whether there is a way to overcome the hurdles and encouraged us to do so. We appreciate all the well wishes and encouragement, and are trying to figure this out. We are now seeking individuals to join in an email conversation to discuss this, and then decide whether the technical and human needs can be met. If you'd like to join in that conversation, email us at findsassafras@gmail.com and we'll start the conversation soon. More details below.


Given the requirements that any winter trap must be monitored, and if needed, expertly visited within a 2 hour timeslot, the hurdles are quite substantial. We are simply unwilling to put the life of any animal in danger. Before we would proceed, we believe that all of the following minimum requirements must be met:

- The trap can be monitored at least every two hours. This might be accomplished by a live-streaming web cam monitored by humans, provided one can be built/provided. Humans would need to be responsible for monitoring the system and therefore someone on "web duty" 24/7. An ironclad web rotation would be needed with backup people on call should someone not be able to watch.

- If there is an animal in the trap, it must be properly treated/handled, also within that two-hour period. Proper treatment/handling could range from a simple release, a capture and delivery to the proper authorities, and of course a capture and return to us if it was Sassafras (that would be fantastic!). Anyone on "trap duty" must be able to handle any situation. As with the web duty, an ironclad trap rotation would be needed with backup people on call. Clear coordination would also be needed  so that anyone monitoring the system can get in touch with someone on duty to visit the trap.

- This system must be able to operate without the direct involvement of Sass' parents.  For emotional and personal reasons, we cannot take on being the linchpin on this. We cannot take calls at all hours to find someone to go to the trap or go ourselves. If one of us is away, waking a 2 1/2 year old child in the middle of the night to drag her to a trap is simply not an option we wish to rely upon (unless it were definitely Sassafras in that trap). After nearly 9 months of searching, we are exhausted and ideally would find a volunteer leader (or co-leaders) who would take on core responsibility for keeping the trap operation running.

Some more points:

The initial hurdles are technical. We don't have a web enabled remote camera, but have been exploring the topic. A great volunteer sent us a link to this system, which just might work. But we don't have the technical expertise to build one. Perhaps there are volunteers who could take on building one of these, getting the web hook-up figured out, etc? Or maybe there are hunters who have ones that they would be willing to let us borrow? Within reason we are certainly willing to pay the costs.

Once the system is built, there are some additional technical questions to resolve. Does the camera work at night? Is it possible to review/save the video feed? Ideally, it would be great if the video feed could automatically notify someone when an animal comes into view. Is that possible? How often do the batteries need to be changed? Some have asked whether it would be possible to heat a trap. We believe that is not an option.

(Side note: In the long-term, having web-enabled live-streaming cameras is something that could be quite valuable. It would enable us to monitor locations without traps. We have sheets soaked in our scent that could be put out after new sightings, etc. Being able to review video in such instances would be essential.)

Of course, the ongoing hurdles are human. Are there enough volunteers to 100%-reliably monitor the traps? If done via web cam, then this duty could be shared by volunteers outside the area, but they would need to be coordinated. Are there enough volunteers to 100%-reliably visit the traps at any hour and know what to do? What kind of training might be needed? How would it be provided? Are there individuals who could lead this whole process? Who can fix the system should it break?

Additional considerations/hard truths:

Right now the weather is bad, but that doesn't mean that trapping is suddenly a better idea than it was when the weather was nice. At a fundamental level, does trying a trap now make sense? Or is this just desperation? We've put up cameras before in likely locations, where Sass had been repeatedly tracked, to no avail. Is this really likely to be different?

A bit of information that we have not shared until now is that someone has been putting up a covered/insulated trap during the night hours the past two weekends along a key stretch of the trail. Two weekends ago, other animals, but no Sassafras, were captured and released alive. Last weekend, the trap malfunctioned. Some food was eaten, but no animal captured. It is now getting into the heart of the winter and this will not be possible without more constant monitoring.

The hard truth is that there is always something more to do or something new to try. At some point, we have to do draw the line and say that the effort needed and the likelihood of success don't work out in our favor. If we don't, we literally will stop living our lives in any meaningful way. Great volunteers allow us to collectively do much more than we can do as individuals, for which we are truly grateful. All actions take an emotional toll on us, however. Ultimately, we have to make these decisions.

At this moment, we are asking individuals who bring direct technical expertise to this situation or could commit to volunteer their time with monitoring and/or leading coordination, to please help us figure this out by emailing us. (Please do not call. This will be an online discussion only. findsassafras@gmail.com)

1 comment:

  1. I am in Ohio, but if something can be done for you remotely, I'll gladly help.

    Is there a nearby college with a responsible sorority, fraternity or other group that might consider this a community service type project? They may be able to carefully monitor the trap in shifts.

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