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OSU study shines light on elusive, nocturnal ringtails

A ringtail with a collar
Jonathan Armstrong
Oregon State University
Ringtails were collared with radio transmitters, and later tracked to their daytime resting areas.

A Corvallis researcher contributed to recent discoveries about an elusive mammal found in southern Oregon and northern California.

Ringtails are nocturnal omnivores related to raccoons. They have fluffy, black-and-white striped tails and very large eyes, and are about the size of a gray squirrel.

Sean Matthews is a research scientist at Oregon State University and is one of the authors of the study, done in collaboration with the Hoopa Valley tribe northeast of Eureka, and led by Cale Myers, then a graduate student at Cal Poly Humboldt.

Matthews said researchers found ringtails in mature Douglas fir forests, where previous studies had found them in oak savannas.

And, said Matthews, “we found that they tend to use a little bit younger forests than other research has found, and we think this might be related to the way the (Hoopa Valley) tribe has been managing their forests and their timber resources.”

Matthews said when the Hoopa log an area, they leave older trees standing to serve as wildlife habitat. He says it was validating to the tribe that their practices are compatible with ringtails, which are culturally important.

He said the findings have applications for forest management in southern Oregon, where ringtails live in similar habitat.

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.