NIMBY, or USFS Research Spy Camera?

Post by blogger | June 15, 2012      

You’re enjoying a nice hiking trail. A bit primitive, a bit controversial due to proposed land exchange in the area. Perhaps the USFS hung up this motion activated camera pointed in your face as you come around a bend. Perhaps the trail is a thorn in the side of nearby NIMBYs and they’re doing their own cowboy spycraft. Either way, is this wilderness or weirdness? Anyone in this area of Colorado know the story? We called the USFS and got voicemail for about eight people.

Spy camera.

Spy camera.

Ostensibly, a USFS research camera would be identified with a tag or name written on it. If not, it’s probably an illegal installation. Disappointing either way, really.



46 Responses to “NIMBY, or USFS Research Spy Camera?”

  1. AndyC June 15th, 2012 5:46 pm

    FWIW. These cameras are becoming quite common and are often used by private entities such as hunters and non-profit conservation groups and by public agencies such as university, state, and federal (Forest Service, Fish&Wildlife Service, USGS, etc.) researchers studying everything from visitor use intensity to wildlife diversity. I agree that if it was a federal agency camera there would be a label on it–but perhaps on the side against the tree. I doubt if it is illegal for a hunter, conservationist, or student to install cameras if the installation was temporary and non-damaging.

  2. Tina June 15th, 2012 5:48 pm

    It is most likely a camera trap for wildlife, my guess would be lynx based on the height and location. It’s not filming, but rather taking individual pictures… although I realize that it could still be disconcerting. It doesn’t necessarily have to be labeled, depending on who deployed it (university researcher, etc) but I am surprised that on a trail there wouldn’t be some kind of note on the camera box itself.

  3. Tim June 15th, 2012 6:03 pm

    Is this from your outing to the proposed Wexner swap parcel? These things are pretty cool, not sure its presence alone signals anything malicious – then again, the “hidden hand” is tricky like that.

  4. Lou June 15th, 2012 6:34 pm

    Tim, yeah, we were up there again today. Found some super nice and well used trails leading way into the BLM, including an overlook over the Lions Mane formation. See photos here:

    I think it’s about 50/50 that it’s either benign, or something a NIMBY put there, due to some clues I can’t get into. We’re trying to find out.

  5. byates1 June 15th, 2012 6:59 pm

    i have a small peach tree in my back yard

    for the last 2 years, someone has stolen about 30 peaches off the tree, perfectly ripe harvest time.

    this year, a camera is going in, i will catch the thief, and mail the photo to my small town newspaper.

    the great peach caper will be solved!

  6. Ryan Stefani June 15th, 2012 7:59 pm

    In any case, I’d have to venture out on a limb and say time and time again, nature has proven that when managed, things go wrongly. A little monkey wrenchin’ seems in order…

  7. Nathan B June 15th, 2012 8:52 pm

    Put up another camera to watch that camera… see who comes to pick it up.

  8. Lou June 15th, 2012 10:20 pm

    Okay you guys, this weekend, informal contest to see who comes up with the best idea of how to handle the camera. Someone said I should whip it out and water it, but that seemed a bit much. Any other ideas that involve less exposure (grin)?

  9. denisseattle June 15th, 2012 10:49 pm

    Dang, now I have to wear a disguise when I go back for my camera! Maybe I can borrow the gorilla suit from the guy outside the mattress store…

  10. Jackson Henri June 15th, 2012 10:51 pm

    Perhaps a message spelled out on several large signs while you do a sexy little dance while wearing a Nixon mask, short-sleeved speed suit, and cape? Don’t forget the aluminum foil beanie as well!
    Also, don’t read too much into the string of voice mailboxes you got. Nearly all USFS personel have either primary or secondary duties as fire fighters. I’m sure you’ve seen the news and noticed the snowpack this year. Most of the guys and gals I know haven’t had more than two days of in the last month, and zero office days in that time. They’ll get back to you given the time!

  11. Frank K June 16th, 2012 7:43 am

    Didn’t the FS (or the Wilderness Workshop) place cameras on a trail on Smuggler last summer, trying to catch bikers on it? This could be the same thing, trying to catch MTB’s if it isn’t an officially sanctioned trail. Hikers, of course, have full reign to walk anywhere they want.

  12. Chase Harrison June 16th, 2012 8:12 am

    There is a camera at the Snowmass end of West Government. Poachers beware.

  13. Lou June 16th, 2012 8:22 am

    Not much fun being spied on… Frank, yeah, this could well be a USFS thing but I’ve been told when they do it, it would be marked. This one has some factors that indicate it’s privately owned. I’ll bet it’s gone the next time we look.

  14. martin June 16th, 2012 9:26 am

    Maybe a bear ate the sign.

    I was going out to do some nude hiking this afternoon, but now I’m not so sure.

  15. naginalf June 16th, 2012 10:41 am

    Hmm, expensive waterproof outdoor motion capture camera hanging on a tree on public land with no discernible markings to indicate the owner or anything saying “return to x”? Sounds like a free camera to me.

  16. John Gloor June 16th, 2012 11:01 am

    @ Frank K. The Forest Service talked about maybe stationing cameras on that trail, but then said it was not in their budget to monitor it and asked the public to stay off of the trail. I do not know if the Wilderness workshop did anything. A couple of years prior I ran into a girl GPSing the trails up there for the wilderness Workshop. This was years before they notified the forest service about trails up there.

  17. Lou June 16th, 2012 11:09 am

    Mapping trails so they can close them. Back in 1970 on Earth Day, who knew it would all lead to that?

    John, I don’t think they were referring to this exact trail when they made recommendations for use, it’s not on the Travel Management Plan maps… But I’d imagine there are various powers, from nearby private land owners to Wilderness Workshop fanatics, who would like it shut down to humans, or at least public humans.

    BTW, it’s pretty obvious when you’re up there that at least one nearby local is probably using it as their own personal horseback riding trail.


  18. ptor June 16th, 2012 1:57 pm

    Agenda 21???

  19. mtnrunner2 June 16th, 2012 3:38 pm

    If it’s public land, I can’t imagine what purpose images of hikers would serve to Wexner.

    The only time I’ve seen one was in Boulder for wildlife purposes. I gave the peace sign and a goofy face every time I ran by it (other gestures and behaviors did occur to me as well).

    Then there was the sign on a public social trail in my neighborhood that said something like “I know you’re pooping here, and there’s a hidden camera so don’t do it again”. Definitely the tin-foil-hat variety. Also thought of taping a scat identification sheet to help them out since they seem to lack knowledge in that area.

    I do like the second camera idea 🙂

  20. Canadian June 16th, 2012 4:41 pm

    Perhaps a bit of paranoia? Although, maybe it is related to the conflict in your area, up here there are a growing number of ordinary folks using these cameras to document wildlife on our properties and on trails on public land. My cameras have never recorded people (yet), as we live in a sparsely used rural area, but it is fascinating to see how many wolves, coyotes, bears, moose and elk are using the same trails that we regularly walk. I was inspired by the Parks Canada clip with a year’s worth of images from a trail in Banff park.

    Also, these cameras are important research tools that document the successes of such initiatives as the multiple overpasses and underpasses on the Trans Canada Highway through Banff Park. Check out the highway wilding youtubes.

  21. Lou June 16th, 2012 4:50 pm

    Canadian, in many cases you could say paranoia, but in this case, I’m pretty sure the camera was placed to document people, not animals. Personally, I’m not that fond of having my picture taken every time I walk by the thing, and being used for who-knows-what purposes.

    Good point about wildlife using trails along with people. I see it all the time. I see the tracks all the time. Kind of makes a joke out of when the USFS and BLM decide they don’t like a trail and “decommission” it. Tell that to the elk and deer. Ridiculous. Some of the most beat out trails I’ve ever seen were mostly used by elk…, and you should see the damage in some places around here done by mountain sheep, dozens of threaded and eroded trails on one tundra slope, for example. Lou

  22. Dan June 16th, 2012 7:04 pm

    Canadian: Thanks for the great links. Reminds me of the old Singing Pass Trail by Whistler before Blackcomb ski area was hatched. More than occasionally, we would have to move off the trail to avoid an oncoming black bear…heading for the dump (about where the village is located now). Although, not quite the number and variety of Banff wildlife.

  23. tka June 16th, 2012 9:50 pm

    Why don’t you just leave it as you found it? Like a gate or you know, not be paranoid, and actually think for once that somebody is not out to get you….. So what if a camera is there? Are you supposed to be on that trail or aren’t you? Sounds to me that your actions are suspicious, and about to be more so. If you are using that area legally, well then, maybe someone is trying to better understand how to manage the land. It’s really none of your business. Leave it be so as to expose your…..motives.

  24. Scott June 16th, 2012 10:48 pm

    Maybe Victoria’s Secret forgot one of their cameras after doing the special wilderness undies photo shoot for their upcoming “Taking Over Mt. Sopris” catalog….

  25. Patrick June 16th, 2012 11:06 pm

    Thanks Canadian for the youtube links. I’ve seen those before, and many other remote camera shots of wildlife gathered by wildlife research colleagues.

    I do like Scott’s warm thought about the Victoria’s Secret photo shoot. Wonder if there’ve been remote cameras used in -Bare- Creek outside Telluride.

    😉 If only the US military had a few more of those cameras in I-Rack. For sure, the Weapons of Mass Destruction would have been found. Maybe such military cameras would even have captured images of Elvis.

    Lou, about trail closures — In many instances, the public land trail closures (or trail decommissioning) relate to conservation of wildlife, to reduce human intrusion into sensitive habitat, and to reduce human-wildlife interactions (which might be dangerous for both humans who might get attacked and the critter who may be killed as a result). These conservation reasons are not -ridiculous-.
    Keep in mind the critters you no longer see in CO, such as grizzlies and wolverines.

  26. Lou June 17th, 2012 5:50 am

    TKA, actually, it is our business because it’s public land and people are not supposed to just go around installing equipment on the trails without a permit from the Forest Service. At the least, it’s ugly. At the worst, it’s an invasion of privacy. (And note, the person taking the pictures has made it their business, so what’s wrong with us making their camera on public land our business?) No issue with us being on that trail, it’s well used and legal. But it’s indeed a controversial trail because it’s not “official” and leads to the BLM land that may be privatized and closed, and it’s also a trail that is mostly in use by nearby locals, some of whom I suspect would rather it was an informal unknown trail they could pretty much use as their own private resource.

    The issue of “official” USFS numbered trails is actually quite interesting. There are literally thousands of miles of game trails and “unofficial” human trails in this National Forest. No law against walking on those trails unless you’re in a closed area of some sort, or they’ve actually discovered one of the unofficial trails, mapped it, and declared it closed. Even in the case of trails they close and “decommission” the game still use them, and if the trail takes a logical route it frequently remains in use anyway, especially during hunting season. Overall this is a strange issue that’s more bureaucratic than anything real on the ground. If nothing else, the weirdness is if they “close” a trail, you can just walk through the nearby forest to get to the same place, just as long as you’re not on the trail. My take is we need more trails and the USFS and BLM should designate more trails. But they tend to close them rather than build them.

  27. steveG June 17th, 2012 6:31 am

    What to do? Wear a tee shirt. Approach the camera. Put your hand up to your ear with your pinkie and thumb out as a telephone. Mouth the words, “Call me” “Lou”.

  28. Lou June 17th, 2012 7:57 am

    We tried that while wearing a WildSnow speedo, still have not heard back.

  29. Ben 2 June 17th, 2012 1:14 pm

    If there’s any chance that it’s a legitimate wildlife research camera I wouldn’t mess with it, or advocate messing with such things (although I think they are usually clearly labeled with identifiers, you never know). There are a couple of regulars on Supertopo who have posted about having research cameras vandalized or stolen, and it sucks for the poor researcher or student who loses both equipment and data.

    Sure it detracts from my wilderness experience to see a box tied to a tree, on the other hand the pre-existing trail and my presence are already signs it’s not fully wild, as well.

  30. John Gloor June 17th, 2012 2:16 pm

    Lou you wrote, “John, I don’t think they were referring to this exact trail when they made recommendations for use, it’s not on the Travel Management Plan maps… But I’d imagine there are various powers, from nearby private land owners to Wilderness Workshop fanatics, who would like it shut down to humans, or at least public humans.”

    I was referring to the Balcony Trail above smuggler, in response to Frank’s query about that trail.

  31. Jefferson June 17th, 2012 2:38 pm


    If this device were USFS or some other government agency it would be marked as such along with contact information and a warning of penalties for tampering. It isn’t, so I would say that it’s both private and illegal. If you are not inclined to block the lens – which would probably bring its owner in a day or so, do you have a remote camera of your own? – you should visually inspect the device, taking serial #s, and call the police to have it removed immediately.

  32. Lou June 17th, 2012 2:39 pm

    Oh, ok, I’m speaking of the trails on the north flanks of Mt. Sopris, mid to high elevation. Lots of bureaucratic energy seems to be directed to only having one human or two human USFS trails in that whole area, which is ridiculous, there should be twice that many at least.

  33. Jefferson June 17th, 2012 2:39 pm


    If this device were owned or sanctioned by a government agency it would be marked as such along with contact information and a warning of penalties for tampering. It isn’t, so I would say that it’s both private and illegal.

    If you are not inclined to block the lens – which would probably bring its owner in a day or so, do you have a remote camera of your own? – you should visually inspect the device, taking serial #s, and call the police to have it removed immediately.

  34. Lou June 17th, 2012 2:50 pm

    Jefferson, that’s exactly the approach I thought we should take. I’d imagine it’s gone by now as I think the owner probably saw our postings, but if not hopefully one of the people hiking up there this weekend will handle it. Meanwhile, we expect to be speaking with USFS officials tomorrow. The folks who’d remove it would be USFS law enforcement rangers.

  35. Adam Olson June 18th, 2012 6:58 am

    I would gather the camera myself and put a lost and found add in the local paper: “This was found on public land, please call and claim”. Leaving anything in the woods is subject to being “found”.

  36. Dan June 18th, 2012 9:40 am

    USFS “law enforcement” Rangers? A classic oxymoron.

  37. Lou June 18th, 2012 9:50 am

    LOL, but yeah, they do have a couple of guys who patrol.

  38. SB June 18th, 2012 11:32 am

    If its not labeled, treat it like abandoned property or trash. Remove it and throw it away.

  39. brian h June 18th, 2012 12:04 pm

    just throwing in .2 cents- is it possible someone is trying to track a big bull or a buck? I’d say most hunters are going to place t.c’s away from hiking trails and it is a little early for that sort of thing but if the animal is big enough, dudes will get a little looney…

  40. Lou June 18th, 2012 12:23 pm

    From some clues, I doubt it Brian, but good thought. Lou

  41. Tim June 18th, 2012 12:52 pm

    These types of cameras seem to have a short life span in southern Arizona/New Mex and northern Mex where biologists are using them to study a small borderlands Jaguar population on trails utilized by Jags and drug mules alike. Apparently neither species is fond of being photographed!

  42. Phil June 18th, 2012 2:51 pm

    What could happen actually just happened in Austria this month:

    Although I guess this is not a problem backcountry skiers should be concerned about, as winter temperatures and deep powder snow would make this highly uncomfortable…

  43. Crazy Horse June 19th, 2012 1:56 pm

    Them thar things don’t last very long up her in Cowboy Cuntry. We wuz just about running out of road signs when them Birkenstockers started givin us some neu thangs to shoot at. :wink

  44. Spy cams January 28th, 2013 5:23 am

    I do agree with you that it is disappointing.If it is being used for a research purpose by USFS then there should be a tag or name .

  45. Emily January 24th, 2015 7:52 pm

    I am concerned very concerned…… adjacent to or surrounded by NF all of my life I was dosed with my first reality when told a USFS camera was placed on our ranches boundary to spy on our horseback riders. Trails are one of the most beautiful and primitive ways to travel. Nearly all major routes in America today were once elk, buffalo, deer, Indians or other user made trails.
    It is only natural for those that love the outdoors to be intrigued and want to follow the lure of a beautiful trail especially un-groomed the excitement of that something special around every bend and should be able to do so at will on ALL of the peoples land. I am sad and tired to witness our loss of freedom but so very grateful to have been born and raised in a time that I truly know what freedom was and what all of us have let them take.. I am looking for the best device to find these spy cameras……is nothing sacred can one never be truly alone with nature?

  46. linda May 25th, 2015 2:14 pm

    Emily , you are so right and you are but a few of us that are left who know what our constitution and bill of rights are for…..the others have because of ignorance gave what you and I are fighting to keep and were lucky to have experienced real freedom and liberty……..the USFS have put cameras at our ranches boundarys to film horseback riders and I was stunned to find this out…..we have always been hard working upstanding American citizens and now find we are fighting for our way of life as the USFS have taken 70% of all the existing roads in our area away from all that love to see the forest in a free to travel way….then they have now said we must keep our horses on theses roads that are left and designated motorized traffic. Is there a word beyond stupidity and abuse of power. This is completely illegal for them to close ANY existing roads of which our tax money has paid to construct to any travel unless of dangerous and unusual circumstances. This is just the tip of the iceburg and I too am hunting for a device to find and shoot down any spy device in the forest I can find. Please mail me back if you hear of anything. We must stop this Gov Tyranny at the root. I am in Oregon and have always lived on ranches bordered by Gov land and until now have been quite content to live a harsh but beautiful free life.

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version