Sometime toward the end of July, some of my friends and I gathered to discuss our latest book group selection “American Wolf” by Nate Blakeslee. The book had been recommended by Jackie Morton and she was nice enough to stop by and provide some insight into a topic that most of us in the group were not very knowledgeable about. After hearing her speak on the topic, it was pretty clear that Morton has what you might call a passion for predators.
You might have seen her working at Saddleback for the Outdoor Programs and Ski School this past winter, serving beverages at the Fat Tire Mountain Bar, or maybe even making pizzas. She tried to help where needed. However, her life’s work is out in the wild. As you will read, sometimes way out in the wild.
As a seasonal employee of Saddleback she has shared her enthusiasm for wildlife by coming up with a way to draw attention to something other than just the great skiing, the wildlife. This is an aspect of Saddleback you might not easily perceive on your own. By sharing video clips taken from strategically placed game cameras, Morton has given fans of Saddleback even more of a reason love their mountain.
The idea came about when she was chatting with Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of Saddleback, Andy Shepard. “He just came up one day and was talking about environmentalism and sort of how Saddleback is striving to be one of the top ski resorts with that (in mind) and I was like ‘Hey, any chance you’d want to put up game cameras, because I have experience in that?’ and he was like, ‘Sure, send me a proposal.’”

Jackie Morton seen here with her dog Harley on his 7th birthday! Happy birthday Harley! Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

This particular project started in this way, but her path is not a common one and so the question that arose was how her pursued career had come about.
Originally attending the University of Kentucky as an equine science major, with an eye towards becoming a horse veterinarian, I asked how that evolved into her current career pursuit.
Had her interest in wildlife, and specifically predators, had anything to do with her upbringing?
“I grew up in Delaware, so no, I didn’t have any experience with too much wildlife really. Delaware is an interesting state when it comes to wildlife because unlike Maine or other New England states, Delaware doesn’t really have a lot of predators. So we have a lot of deer, but we don’t have the bears, we don’t have bobcats. We were the last state in the Continental U.S. to get coyotes, so we really just have red fox, coyotes. Not a lot of the big charismatic wildlife that you think of. So wildlife wasn’t really on my radar that much. We had had some bird rescues around, but that’s about it.”
Her focus shifted after she went on one memorable trip out west.
“When I was really still interested in being an equine vet, a horse vet, I went on this pack trip out in Wyoming and basically we went about 70 miles into the woods outside of Yellowstone in the Tetons on horseback for ten days.”
One of the guys leading the pack trip turned out to be a wildlife filmmaker. From what she recalls he had a degree in wildlife biology from Texas A&M and the impact of the stories he told her made a lasting impression. “And it really sort of opened my eyes to that sort of line of work- and then on that trip too I saw my first grizzly, I saw my first wolf. So it sort of just sparked this interest in predators as well, which really sort of took off from there because I hadn’t really seen a lot of these big animals. I mean I’d come to Rangeley and seen a lot of moose and I’d seen maybe one or two coyotes run across the road and I’d seen tons of red fox but that was really about it.”
This experience contributed to her decision to add wildlife conservation and ecology to her animal science and animal health studies at the University of Delaware, where she had come to transfer to.
Again, a serendipitous conversation, this time with the professor of her first wildlife class, helped advance her interests. She came to find out he had gotten his Masters by focusing on snow leopards in Mongolia and more significantly, his PhD work was on loons. Coincidentally the work on loons was done at the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, less than an hour from Rangeley in Errol, New Hampshire, and not far from her family’s camp.
“He was talking about that one day in class and pointing to these maps of Umbagog and the sort of surrounding lakes and I was like ‘that looks really familiar!’ So I walked up to him and said, have you ever been to Rangeley?”

This fortuitous connection led to a volunteer summer internship at Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge where she worked with children in the Youth Conservation Corps., as well as various long and short term projects that included wood turtle surveys, loon population studies, forestry tree counts, and a pollinator garden. “It gave me this very broad overview of what wildlife fieldwork and office work could look like and I immediately knew that’s what I want to do.”
She reflected on her good fortune as she was “able to live here in Rangeley where my family had a cabin and commute to work. So it was really an easy way to sort of dip my toes in and that is when I sort of fell in love with living in Rangeley too.”
That was back going into her junior year about four summers ago. From there she has travelled quite a bit. She has participated in studies in various places such as Minnesota, Utah, and Africa. “So, it was sort of like loons and turtles and then coyotes and then wolves and then cougars and then here. It’s all sort of seasonal jobs for wildlife until you get your masters and then, once you get your masters you could sort of get your year-round positions. But until then it’s a lot of moving around.”
So now focusing back in Rangeley, I asked more about the idea for this Saddleback project.

“I thought especially because Saddleback had been shut down for a while, for about five years, that it would be interesting to see if the wildlife changes now that it’s open- if we’re going to see less wildlife year to year to year now that there is more use. And I also thought this would be a great opportunity to sort of help with education and awareness in the local communities and the tourism. Especially now that ecotourism is becoming such a huge part of travel. I thought well, this could be great way to show everyone that you’re coexisting with wildlife at your ski resort, and you don’t even know it. And that it’s sort of cool to see sort of the secret community that’s up there and I thought that that’s something that I’m passionate about. My biggest sort of goal in wildlife work is to do conflict mitigation with humans and wildlife, and predators and livestock. So, working so that we can all live together successfully and relatively peacefully- as much so as possible. So, I thought this would be a cool way to showcase that and create some awareness of the local wildlife and just get everybody interested in it. Especially people just coming up for the weekend it might be cool to see ‘Oh look, there’s a moose on my favorite trail’. That’s sort of exciting.”
For now, Morton is recording things like what species she is seeing, the amount, and if there is anything out of the ordinary. “It’s hard right now because there’s not a lot of data yet, but hopefully I can get more data and get a more collective, more whole view of that”.
She came up with the concept for the project in December of 2020 and the proposal was approved sometime in mid-January. However, it took a while to get all of the materials shipped here, so the game cameras weren’t put up until the end of February/early March.
For now, the video clips may only be seen on Instagram @saddleback_wildlife, but plans are currently underway to post them on the Saddleback website.

Close up shot of moose from game camera.

So, what has she and her approximately 350 Instagram followers seen so far?
“Lots of moose, lots of moose calves, lots of deer, a pine marten which was pretty cool. I’ve seen an owl which was really surprising because the game cameras are sort of angled toward the ground, so getting any kind of bird is kind of exciting. Lots of songbird species flying by.”
“There was one video with two moose calves running sort of down Hudson Highway and they were sort of yelling at each other with this really weird noise that I think a lot of people hadn’t heard moose calves make before. So, a lot of people were really excited about that and sharing that on their own pages and sending me messages about that and asking about that which is really cool.”
However, as I mentioned her passion is predators, so she is hoping to get more cameras up and hopefully more varied footage.
“I want to get more coyotes, more fox, I’m trying to get maybe a bobcat, hopefully, and some bears. I moved a couple of the cameras around recently in order to try and get some of them on camera because they sort of live in a different habitat than the moose like to, but people really like moose, so I kept a couple there.”
The grant she received to do her work has partially been used for the Browning game cameras, of which she has less than a dozen currently up and running. “Right now, I only have through Saddleback I have five, and then I have a couple of personal ones that I have tested out some locations with. So, I’ll throw them out and test out a location just to see and then I’m in the process of ordering probably 5-10 more. Now that I’ve sort of been successful at a baseline, now I’m going to try to start and ramp it up a little bit and get some more footage.”
For more information about the project or if you have some of your own footage you would like to share with Jackie Morton, you may email her at [email protected]
Editor’s side note: I’m currently reading “Fox & I” by Catherine Raven for my next book group. Hey Jackie, would you mind dropping by for that gathering as well? 

Jackie Morton checking out the game camera images near Rock Pond. Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

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