Animal ‘signs’ are all around

beaver sign
One of the most obvious animal signs left on trees comes from beaver. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR

Most wild mammals don’t vocalize much. Tracks can be hard to spot and swiftly erased by the elements. So how do you find signs of animals in the woods?

Scat (or poop) is one type of “sign.” Another is tree sign. No, not initials carved in tree trunks but rubbings and other marks animals might leave on trees.

Tree sign left by beavers is obvious; they chew into tree trunks to topple them. Deer and elk rub saplings leaving bald areas on the tree’s lower trunk. Bears can strip the bark off of trees looking for edible insects underneath. Porcupines do the same, only higher up. Tree sign is among the best indicators of animal presence because it lasts a long time.

bear tree damage
Bear sign on trees includes removal of bark that can severely damage the tree. Photo: DNR.

Wildlife is elusive but not invisible if we are alert to all of the ways of detecting and understanding the amazing animals we share our forest with. To learn about other types of sign and how to read them, check out the post by Ken Bevis, DNR wildlife biologist, in the most recent issue of Forest Stewardship Notes, a free, quarterly e-newsletter published by DNR and Washington State University Forestry Extension.

Classes in forest knowledge designed for those who own, or who would like to someday own, small woodlands are coming up this summer in Athol (July 15) Bellingham (July 22) and Vashon (August 5)

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