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North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)

North American Bat Monitoring Program Working Group
North American Bat Monitoring Program Working Group

Despite their importance and the many threats facing their populations [e.g., white-nose syndrome (WNS), climate change, wind energy development, and habitat loss and fragmentation], there are currently no national programs to monitor and track bat populations in North America. A statistically rigorous and nationally coordinated bat monitoring program is critical for determining the impacts of the many stressors on bat populations, as well as for determining the efficacy of management actions taken to conserve bat populations (i.e., adaptive management). The objectives of the North American Bat Monitoring Program (or NABat) are to: 1) provide the architecture for coordinated bat monitoring to support local, regional and range-wide inferences about trends in bat populations and abundances in response to WNS, climate, wind energy, and habitat loss, and 2) provide managers and policy makers with the information they need on bat population trends to effectively manage bat populations, detect early warning signs of population declines, and estimate extinction risk. Three workshops were held in 2013 and 2014 to develop the monitoring program. These workshops were attended by scientists and researchers from multiple agencies including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, University of Calgary, Canadian Wildlife Service, and the University of Tennessee, National Institute of Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. The protocol for NABat entitled “A Plan for a North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)” is currently in review and will be published summer of 2014. For Additional Information: Bat Population Database, https://my.usgs.gov/bpd/ and Bat Population Data Project Page: https://www.fort.usgs.gov/science-tasks/2217

Science Support for Bureau of Land Management Rapid Ecoregional Assessments

Aspen landscape near Fairplay, Colorado. Photograph by Tasha Carr, USGS, 2014.
Aspen landscape near Fairplay, Colorado. Photograph by Tasha Carr, USGS, 2014.

Public lands are subject to increasingly complex and widespread environmental stressors that transcend traditional management boundaries. To address these challenges, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is developing a Landscape Approach for managing multiple uses of public lands and sustained yield of their renewable natural resources. The BLM Landscape Approach incorporates multiscale information to quantify the effects of natural and human influences on natural resource conditions and trends. A primary goal of the approach is to identify opportunities for resource conservation, restoration, and development. By quantifying and synthesizing information across regions, the Landscape Approach is useful for identifying important ecological resources and quantifying the effects of environmental change that may not be evident at finer scales. Ecological resources can include important wildlife habitats and ecological communities, as well as pristine or unique areas that have high conservation potential.

The BLM Landscape Approach is closely aligned with the DOI’s “A Strategy for Improving the Mitigation Policies and Practices of The Department of the Interior,” also referred to as the Landscape-Scale Mitigation Strategy (Landscape Strategy). A primary objective of the DOI Landscape Strategy is to shift from project-level to broad-scale, science-based management that helps to avoid, minimize, and compensate for adverse effects to natural resources. The BLM Landscape Approach addresses the following key components outlined by the DOI Landscape Strategy: develop assessment methods that promote consistency in management decisions, identify ecological characteristics that promote ecosystem resilience under rapidly changing environmental conditions, and foster collaboration among land management agencies.

The BLM Landscape Approach and the DOI Landscape Strategy recognize the need for methods and tools to quantify landscape-level effects across a range of spatial scales. Such effects include the consequences of human activities on the spatial patterning and dynamics of ecological communities and wildlife habitats.

A major component of the BLM Landscape Approach is the Rapid Ecoregional Assessment (REA) program. REAs identify important ecosystems and determine where these resources are at risk from development, climate change, wildfire, invasive species, and other environmental stressors that can affect the integrity of ecological systems. Development of methods to quantify landscape intactness or condition is a primary goal of the REAs. Such information is crucial for establishing regional strategies and identifying areas that have potential for conservation, restoration, or development.

Since 2010, BLM has initiated or completed 15 REAs, with additional assessments planned for the near future. By design, the initial REA guidelines allowed considerable flexibility to address local information needs and to foster innovation. Federal and state agencies and nongovernmental organizations provided guidance on appropriate and relevant assessment methods. They also provided vital feedback on the successes and challenges encountered in conducting the REAs and applying the results to management decisions. Building on the lessons learned from completed or current REAs, the BLM, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, will perform systematic comparisons of REA methods to identify the most promising suite of landscape-level analysis tools. In addition, the BLM and USGS will develop practical applications that demonstrate how to incorporate assessment information to address existing management issues, such as cumulative effects of proposed management actions, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The outcome of these efforts will be a set of comprehensive technical guidance documents for conducting and applying broad-scale assessments. The guidance documents are intended to identify scientifically defensible methods, promote consistency and transparency in management decisions at multiple scales, and demonstrate how information from regional assessments can be applied within and across jurisdictions. Continued partnerships with multiple governmental and nongovernmental organizations are essential for identifying common information needs, relevant assessment methods to meet those needs, and management applications. This set of guidance documents is expected to benefit natural resource managers, contribute to the development of the BLM Landscape Approach, and support the objectives of the DOI Landscape Strategy.

SALMOD Salmonid Young-of-Year Production Model for Klamath, Trinity and Sacramento Rivers

The Klamath River
The Klamath River

Population dynamics, habitat requirements, and habitat restoration assessment tools for native migratory salmonids are especially needed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation for their responsibilities under the Klamath River Basin Fishery Resources Restoration Act, Trinity River Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act and Central Valley Project Improvement Act. Understanding the effects of management actions and limiting factors, continual improvement and expansion of biological data collection, mathematical and statistical analyses, and simulation modeling will be used to estimate and predict salmon populations and habitat quantity and quality.  

There is a need to better understand, communicate, predict and control the effects of water and river management actions on salmonid species; recognize flow-timing related limiting factors; reduce bias, improve precision and optimize sampling effort of USFWS and tribal fisheries program biological data collection efforts; assess habitat restoration efforts; and reverse the ongoing decline of Federal species. FAER 5- Develop research and technology tools to provide the scientific basis for developing adaptative management strategies and evaluating their effectiveness for restoration efforts to sustain aquatic resources and provide research support and technical assistance to support natural resource management problem solving and decision making. We will also develop and evaluate inventory and monitoring methods, protocols, experimental designs, analytic tools, models, and technologies to measure biological status and trends.

USGS is guiding FWS and the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribal fishery programs to collect biological and habitat data needed to better estimate young-of-year production and successful outmigration, and habitat selection and use rates. In turn, this data and information will be used to calibrate and improve estimates from USGS’ SALMOD, a young-of-year salmon production model. We will use procedures developed for sampling Klamath River habitats, densities and populations started in 1997 with continued development to date. Reservoir releases were very low in 2001 through 2005, devastatingly high in 2006, and low again in 2007 and 2009. Our production data are almost solely for dry or extremely dry water years with low, declining escapement and young-of-year production. We are anxious to continue this model calibration effort during average and wet water years with pre-2004 above average salmon adult escapement.

Staff reductions and lack of base, cyclical or reimbursible funding make progress on this task unlikely in FY14. If staffing/funding become available, then a 2014 statement of work will also be developed. Highlights and Key Findings: The first-ever Chinook salmon carcass survey on the mid-Klamath River below Iron Gate Dam was conducted in October-December, 2001. The concurrent redd count was 825 redds while the carcass survey estimate of successfully spawned females in the same stretch of river was 2480. Similar 1:3+ results were found in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006. Redd counts continue to be used for large area-low density sampling while carcass surveys estimates replace redd count estimates in high density spawning areas. Rotary trap and frame net surveys of exiting pre-smolts have been conducted since 2000 with an intense effort started in 2002, contemporaneous with three years of very low releases from Iron Gate Dam. Efficiency estimates in low flows have shown that expensive rotary traps do a poor job of sampling versus the low-tech and much more reliable frame nets fished near the rotary traps. At low flows (from 1300 to 1700 cfs in two months of the spring of 2002, 2004, and 2005), young-of-year salmon stopped moving and the disease symptom rate (starting in late April) jumped dramatically to 70%. Drought (2001 to present except 2006; following five wet years), court-mandated minimum flows (2002 to present) and release management (2001 to present) have coincided with a dramatic decline of fall Chinook salmon young-of-year production and outmigration and following years’ returning adults.

Contribution of Landscape Characteristics to Long-term Viability of Greater Sage Grouse

A male Greater sage grouse

Habitat and population fragmentation were among the primary factors contributing to the recent US Fish and Wildlife Service decision that listing greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus, hereafter sage-grouse) was warranted but currently precluded by higher priority actions. Increasingly, current management is focused on core or priority areas containing the highest densities of breeding birds with little regard to understanding connectivity within and among areas. The most fundamental objective of species conservation is to first identify and subsequently maintain a set of viable and connected populations. Therefore, if management emphasis on core areas is to be successful for long-term conservation, it is important to know:

  • The spatial delineation of breeding populations across the range-wide distribution of sage-grouse,
  • How primary populations located in high quality habitat are interconnected across regions of lower population densities and less suitable habitat, and
  • The spatial scale and relative importance of landscape features that influence gene flow.

We will combine genetic markers and landscape analyses to define the spatial structure of sage-grouse populations and environmental influences on dispersal. Genetic information can be extracted from sage-grouse feathers lost from birds displaying on breeding grounds (leks). By collecting feathers at multiple leks, we can delineate the genetic relatedness among breeding locations within the sage-grouse population. Genetic relatedness coupled with landscape analyses then can be used to determine how features, such as geographic distance, topographic characteristics, or anthropogenic land uses can influence dispersal.

We will develop the design to sample genetic materials (feathers) from leks across the western portion of the sage-grouse range. The western range of sage-grouse contains approximately 3,000 known leks. Therefore, sampling all leks and individuals is not feasible. Instead, we will need to identify spatial and temporal genetic relatedness among a subset of leks within regions containing the range of landscape characteristics that influence dispersal. The design also will incorporate a hierarchical approach to draw local, regional, and range-wide conclusions. Pending funding, the second and third year will be used to sample leks and conduct the genetic analyses. We have permission from state wildlife agencies to sample leks in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. Feathers also may be available from a current study in California. We will take measures to assure that our genetic data is comparable to other similar efforts in the eastern part of the range (Wyoming and Montana). In the final year, we will apply the cost-surface models of sage-grouse movements to predict population viability relative to current and proposed land use actions, and to long-term shifts in vegetation predicted under climate change scenarios.

The results from this project will be important for interpreting our other ongoing project to identify and map the ecological minimums required by sage-grouse. Combined, the two studies delineate current and future habitat distributions and the likelihood that sage-grouse can tract those shifts given potential barriers. We have worked hard to promote this project including obtaining funding, getting states on board to collect feathers, and optimizing genetic techniques that we can use.