Wildlife Survey Field Methods (WSFM)

Images (c) Rory Hill


Wildlife Survey Field Methods (WSFM) is an applied three-day course that provides an introduction and overview for nine ground-based and five aerial-based wildlife survey methods. Using classroom instruction, demonstrations, and field exercises participants learn to conduct ground-based surveys using direct observation of individuals and measurement of animal sign such as scat and tracks. The aerial surveys are confined to classroom instruction only. Survey methods introduced are Resources Information Standards Committee (RISC) protocols, but also include methods not included in the RISC library (e.g., camera traps; basic reading of tracks, scat, and sign). Course material is currently targeted on the large ungulates and carnivores of BC, with future plans to augment and customize the course to include regionally-important species.

Survey methods introduced include:

  • Ground-based surveys

    • Encounter surveys

    • Spotlight survey

    • Ground counts at seasonal concentrations

    • Camera trap station

    • Pellet group counts

    • Tracks and sign

    • Snow track surveys

    • Hair capture station

    • Den surveys

  • Aerial surveys

    • Encounter surveys

    • Fixed-width surveys

    • Total counts

    • Mark-recapture-resight

    • Aerial snow tracking

In addition to traditional survey methods, participants will also determine age and sex of animals, interpret sign, and measure trackways to assist in understanding animal behaviour. This course is a hybrid; comprised one-half of scientific survey and one-half of woodcraft (identifying and interpreting sign; attracting and baiting animals).

Each NRTG course includes free, lifetime admission. Enrol once - come back anytime.

The Wildlife Survey Field Methods program is delivered as a scheduled course delivery or as a contract to organizations and groups. See “How Do I Attend?” below.


Upon successful completion of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Conduct nine (9) ground-based wildlife survey methods

  • Conduct five (5) aerial wildlife survey methods

  • Identify wildlife, tracks and behaviour

  • Choose appropriate survey methods based on target species and seasonal timing

  • Install, operate and maintain camera traps

  • Determine age and sex of animals

  • Interpret sign of animal presence

  • Measure trackways to aid in interpreting animal behaviour

  • Attract and bait animals to detect presence

Course format:

The WSFM course is three days in duration and includes a combination of classroom theory, exercises and field practicum. Each course day includes classroom and field training with a strong emphasis on ‘hands on’ training, where participants review, learn and practice field skills under the direction of a highly-qualified wildlife biologist.

This course is typically delivered weekdays and may extend 8:30am to 4:30pm or longer depending on field site locations. Custom or ‘in-house’ course deliveries to an organization or company may vary in format.

Course Customization:

The WSFM course can be customized for an organization, company or aboriginal group based on their needs. For instance, this course can focus on specific animal species of interest or regions or time-of-year surveys (e.g., summer vs winter surveys).

Please contact us with your ideas and needs, and we'll work with you to design and customize this course to meet specific needs.

Potential Students: 

Field Methods for Wildlife Surveys is intended for biologists and environmental technicians beginning their careers or seeking instruction protocols, First Nation environmental technicians required to conduct wildlife surveys in their territories, or others looking for a general introduction to a variety of large mammal wildlife scientific survey methods.


Knowledge and experience with basic field tools such as map, compass, and GPS is recommended.

Personal Equipment Requirements:

Waterproof field notebook (example), suitable all-weather boots, appropriate clothing for field work. Binoculars, GPS and compass are optional but recommended.

For further information, or for further assistance, please contact NRTG.  

Course Fees:

Course fees will vary by course delivery location.  For further information, please contact us or refer to our Course Schedule Page.

How do I Attend?

The WSFM course is offered as a regularly-scheduled course delivery and on contract to organizations, companies and aboriginal groups throughout the year in provinces and communities throughout Canada. Scheduled courses are posted on the NRTG Schedule Page.

If you would like to inquire to have us bring this course to your community or organization, please contact us for further information and consider the following: 

  1. Contact us well in advance of your preferred course start date

  2. If applicable, secure program funding

  3. Recruit course participants (most NRTG courses have minimum enrollments of 10 participants)

  4. Coordinate course participant equipment, classroom facility, and contractual agreement with NRTG.

Note: See “Course Customization” above for more information about ‘in-house’ course delivery options.

Instructor Profile:

Dr. Sean Mitchell has over 30 years experience in environmental sampling and analysis of wildlife populations including fish, crustaceans, birds, reptiles, and mammals in four provinces. He brings an applied field-based approach to sampling and nests that within the constraints of study design to teach students not only how to conduct the field work, but also why it is important to follow particular protocols. He has also been teaching for almost fifteen years, having taught at three universities and in First Nation communities.

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