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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Photo courtesy of Makoshika State Park

Poo-Poo Project seeks to protect raptors

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The vault toilets in Makoshika State Park just got a lot safer, at least for the park’s feathered inhabitants.

Park staff recently completed a project to install mesh screens across the top openings of the ventilation pipes on the park’s latrines. The project isn’t something park staff just dreamed up, but is an official project of the Teton Raptor Center (TRC), a non-profit raptor education, research and rehabilitation center headquartered near Jackson, Wyo. The project even has an official, tongue-in-cheek name — the Poo-Poo Project.

The purpose of the mesh screens is to prevent raptors (birds-of-prey like falcons, hawks and owls) from trying to choose latrine ventilation pipes as nesting sites. According to the TRC, those pipes are especially alluring to cavity-nesting raptors like owls, and since 2010, the organization has been working on an effort to address that issue in vault latrines on public lands. The TRC began with installing vent screens on the latrines in nearby Grand Teton National Park and have since taken their efforts nationwide.

The project came to the attention of Makoshika staff via summer season AmeriCorps volunteer Megan Betcher, who stumbled upon it by chance while traveling.

“I just heard about the project when I was on a road trip going through Wyoming,” Betcher said, noting that she had stopped at a Wyoming Wildlife Management Area and happened to see a brochure about the Poo-Poo Project at an information kiosk.

Betcher, who majored in natural resource management and wildlife management in college, said the brochure “definitely piqued my interest,” given her profound interest in and respect and care for wildlife and that she was shocked to learn how many owls and other birds become trapped while attempting to nest in uncovered latrine ventilation pipes.

“I never knew how a latrine could impact wildlife,” she said.

Armed with that new knowledge, Betcher brought the idea to implement the project back to Glendive with her and approached Makoshika manager Chris Dantic about doing so, and she said he was eager to jump on board.

“He was all for it right away,” Betcher said.

So an order was placed with TRC for 19 of the latrine pipe screens in total, at a cost of $29.95 per screen. Eleven of the screens covered the latrine ventilation pipes in Makoshika, while three each went to cover the latrine pipes in Medicine Rocks and Brush Lake state parks, which Dantic also manages. Betcher, fellow AmeriCorps volunteer Ayleen Gutierrez and park maintenance foreman Eric Dion did the work of installing all the screens in Makoshika.

Along with the new screens, each latrine was adorned with a Poo-Poo Project sticker and informational sheet affirming them as bird-safe and explaining to users the reason for and importance of the project.

Betcher said part of her hope is that visitors to Makoshika who see the stickers and information sheets might become curious about the project and carry the news of it back home with them, possibly encouraging them to pursue the project on vault toilets located on public lands near their hometowns.

“We’re hoping people are going to be interested and want to spread it around to other parks in the U.S.,” Betcher said. “We were pretty excited about it. It was definitely an interesting project and it has a fun name that’s kind of catchy.”

Dantic shares Betcher’s enthusiasm and credited her for bringing it to him.

“It’s an important project, and I’m glad Megan brought it to our attention,” he said.

Dantic added that in his view, the project was a very small price to pay to help further ensure the continued health and safety of the owls and all other cavity-nesting birds which call the badlands of Makoshika home.

“It’s kind of important to have (the screens) in there just for the safety of the wildlife in the park, because birds and other critters get in there too” Dantic said. “It’s great for Makoshika and Medicine Rocks and Brush Lake, and I’m just glad we got this taken care of and made it safer for wildlife in the parks.”

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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