U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists at Fort Collins Science Center, National Wetlands Research Center, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, as well as USFWS Migratory Bird biologists across the country, are collaborating with university partners to develop a suite of products for managers. The goals are to identify migratory pathways and stopover sites for conservation, mitigation, and landscape planning; convey the importance of functional landscapes and unobstructed airspaces for migrating wildlife; enable use of radar by the wider biological, wind power, and related communities; and simplify the analysis of radar data. The long term focus is to use radar technologies to better understand movement patterns and habitat associations of migratory birds and other wildlife. Land managers and industry may use the knowledge and tools developed to optimize the siting of energy projects, other facilities, and migratory bird habitat projects.
U.S. Geological Survey Science for the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative—2014 Annual Report
Bowen, Z.H., C.L. Aldridge, P.J. Anderson, T.J. Assal, T.T. Bartos, L.R.H. Biewick, G.K. Boughton, A.D. Chalfoun, G.W. Chong, M.K. Dematatis, C.A. Eddy-Miller, S.L. Garman, S.S. Germaine, C.G. Homer, C. Huber, M.J. Kauffman, N. Latysh, D.J. Manier, C.P. Melcher, A.R. Miller, K.A. Miller, E.M. Olexa, S.L. Schell, A.W. Walters, A.B. Wilson, and T.B. Wyckoff
This report was prepared at the request of the U.S. Department of the Interior and is a compilation and summary of published scientific studies that evaluate the influence of anthropogenic activities and infrastructure on Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter, sage-grouse) populations. The purpose of this report is to provide a convenient reference for land managers and others who are working to develop biologically relevant and socioeconomically practical buffer distances around sage-grouse habitats. The framework for this summary includes (1) addressing the potential effects of anthropogenic land use and disturbances on sage-grouse populations, (2) providing ecologically based interpretations of evidence from the scientific literature, and (3) informing implementation of conservation buffers around sage-grouse communal breeding locations—known as leks.
We do not make specific management recommendations but instead provide summarized information, citations, and interpretation of findings available in scientific literature. We also recognize that because of variation in populations, habitats, development patterns, social context, and other factors, for a particular disturbance type, there is no single distance that is an appropriate buffer for all populations and habitats across the sage-grouse range. Thus, we report values for distances upon which protective, conservation buffers might be based, in conjunction with other considerations. We present this information for six categories of land use or disturbance typically found in land-use plans which are representative of the level of definition available in the scientific literature: surface disturbance (multiple causes; immediate and cumulative influences); linear features (roads); energy development (oil, gas, wind, and solar); tall structures (electrical, communication, and meteorological); low structures (fences and buildings); and activities (noise and related disruptions). Minimum and maximum distances for observed effects found in the scientific literature, as well as a distance range for possible conservation buffers based on interpretation of multiple sources, expert knowledge of the authors regarding affected areas, and the distribution of birds around leks are provided for each of the six categories These interpreted values for buffer distances are an attempt to balance the extent of protected areas with multiple land-use requirements using estimates of the distribution of sage-grouse habitat. Conservation efforts may then focus on the overlap between potential effect zone and important habitats. We provide a brief discussion of some of the most relevant literature for each category. References associated with the minimum and maximum values are identified in the References Cited section with corresponding symbols.
Distances in this report reflect radii around lek locations because these locations are typically (although not universally) known, and management plans often refer to these locations. Lek sites are most representative of breeding habitats, but their locations are focal points within populations, and as such, protective buffers around lek sites can offer a useful solution for identifying and conserving seasonal habitats required by sage-grouse throughout their life cycle. However, knowledge of local and regional patterns of seasonal habitat use may improve conservation of those important areas, especially regarding the distribution and utilization of nonbreeding season habitats (which may be underrepresented in lek-based designations).
Estimated abundance of wild burros surveyed on Bureau of Land Management lands in 2014
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) requires accurate estimates of the numbers of wild horses (Equus ferus caballus) and burros (Equus asinus) living on the lands it manages. For over ten years, BLM in Arizona has used the simultaneous double-observer method of recording wild burros during aerial surveys and has reported population estimates for those surveys that come from two formulations of a Lincoln-Petersen type of analysis (Graham and Bell, 1989). In this report, I provide those same two types of burro population analysis for 2014 aerial survey data from six herd management areas (HMAs) in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah. I also provide burro population estimates based on a different form of simultaneous double-observer analysis, now in widespread use for wild horse surveys that takes into account the potential effects on detection probability of sighting covariates including group size, distance, vegetative cover, and other factors (Huggins, 1989, 1991). The true number of burros present in the six areas surveyed was not known, so population estimates made with these three types of analyses cannot be directly tested for accuracy in this report. I discuss theoretical reasons why the Huggins (1989, 1991) type of analysis should provide less biased estimates of population size than the Lincoln-Petersen analyses and why estimates from all forms of double-observer analyses are likely to be lower than the true number of animals present in the surveyed areas. I note reasons why I suggest using burro observations made at all available distances in analyses, not only those within 200 meters of the flight path. For all analytical methods, small sample sizes of observed groups can be problematic, but that sample size can be increased over time for Huggins (1989, 1991) analyses by pooling observations. I note ways by which burro population estimates could be tested for accuracy when there are radio-collared animals in the population or when there are simultaneous double-observer surveys before and after a burro gather and removal.
Southern Great Plains rapid ecoregional assessment—pre-assessment report
The purpose of the Pre-Assessment Report for the Southern Great Plains Rapid Ecoregional Assessment (REA) is to document the selection process for and final list of Conservation Elements, Change Agents, and Management Questions developed during Phase I. The overall goal of the REAs being conducted for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is to provide information that supports regional planning and analysis for the management of ecological resources. The REA provides an assessment of baseline ecological conditions, an evaluation of current risks from drivers of ecosystem change, and a predictive capacity for evaluating future risks. The REA also may be used for identifying priority areas for conservation or restoration and for assessing the cumulative effects of a variety of land uses. There are several components of the REAs. Management Questions, developed by the BLM and partners for the ecoregion, identify the information needed for addressing land-management responsibilities. Conservation Elements represent regionally significant terrestrial and aquatic species and communities that are to be conserved and (or) restored. For each Conservation Element, key ecological attributes will be evaluated to determine the status of each species and community. The REA also will evaluate major drivers of ecosystem change, or Change Agents, currently affecting or likely to affect the status of Conservation Elements in the future. The relationships between Change Agents and key ecological attributes will be summarized using conceptual models. The REA process is a two-phase process. Phase I (pre-assessment) includes developing and finalizing the lists of priority Management Questions, Conservation Elements, and Change Agents, culminating in the REA Pre-Assessment Report.
Chapter 1 provides an overview of the REA process. Chapter 2 describes the biophysical and anthropogenic features of the Southern Great Plains, and Chapter 3 explains the process used to identify Conservation Elements, Change Agents and Management Questionss. The remaining chapters each feature one of 19 Conservation Elements—6 ecological communities and 13 species (including 2 species assemblages)—to be addressed in Phase II. For each Conservation Element, we will address the four primary Change Agents—development, fire, invasive species, and climate change—required for the REA. In addition, we will evaluate insect pests and disease for particular Conservation Elements. Development includes effects related to energy and infrastructure, agricultural activities, and other human activities, including urbanization and recreation.
An overview on the ecology and management issues for each Conservation Element is provided, including distribution and ecology, landscape structure and dynamics, and associated species of management concern affiliated with each Conservation Element. For each Conservation Element, effects of the Change Agents are described. An overview of potential key ecological attributes and potential Change Agents are summarized by conceptual models and tables. The tables provide an organizational framework and background information for evaluating the key ecological attributes and Change Agents in Phase II.
Development of a Grazing Monitoring Plan for Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Wild horse populations on western ranges can increase rapidly, resulting in the need for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to remove animals in order to protect the habitat that horses share with numerous other species. As an alternative to removals, BLM has sought to develop a long-term, perhaps even permanent, contraceptive to aid in reducing population growth rates. With long-term (perhaps even permanent) efficacy of contraception, however, comes increased concern about the genetic health of populations and about the potential for local extirpation. We used simulation modeling to examine the potential demographic and genetic consequences of applying a mare sterilant to wild horse populations. Using the VORTEX software package, we modeled the potential effects of a sterilant on 70 simulated populations having different initial sizes (7 values), growth rates (5 values), and genetic diversity (2 values). For each population, we varied the treatment rate of mares from 0 to 100 percent in increments of 10 percent. For each combination of these treatment levels, we ran 100 stochastic simulations, and we present the results in the form of tables and graphs showing mean population size after 20 years, mean number of removals after 20 years, mean probability of extirpation after 50 years, and mean heterozygosity after 50 years. By choosing one or two combinations of initial population size, population growth rate, and genetic diversity that best represent a herd of interest, a manager can assess the likely effects of a contraceptive program by examining the output tables and graphs representing the selected conditions.
U.S. Geological Survey Science for the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative—2013 Annual Report
Bowen, Z.H., C.L. Aldridge, P.J. Anderson, T.J. Assal, C.R. Bern, L.R.H. Biewick, G.K. Boughton, A.D. Chalfoun, G.W. Chong, M. Dematatis, B.C. Fedy, S.L. Garman, S.Germaine, M.G. Hethcoat, C. Homer, C. Huber, M.J. Kauffman, N. Latysh, D. Manier, C.P. Melcher, K.A. Miller, C.J. Potter, S.L. Schell, M.J. Sweat, A. Walters, and A.B. Wilson
This is the sixth report produced by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI) to detail annual activities conducted by USGS for addressing specific management needs identified by WLCI partners. In FY2013, there were 25 ongoing and new projects conducted by the USGS. These projects fall into 8 major categories: (1) synthesizing and analyzing existing data to describe (model and map) current conditions on the landscape; (2) developing models for projecting past and future landscape conditions; (3) monitoring indicators of ecosystem conditions and the effectiveness of on-the-ground habitat projects; (4) conducting research to elucidate the mechanisms underlying wildlife and habitat responses to changing land uses; (5) managing and making accessible the large number of databases, maps, and other products being developed; (6) helping to integrate WLCI outcomes with future habitat enhancement and research projects; (7) coordinating efforts among WLCI partners; and (8) providing support to WLCI decision-makers and assisting with overall evaluation of the WLCI program. The two new projects initiated in FY2013 address (1) important agricultural lands in southwestern Wyoming, and (2) the influence of energy development on native fish communities. The remaining activities entailed our ongoing efforts to compile data, model landscape conditions, monitor trends in habitat conditions, conduct studies of wildlife responses to energy development, and upgrade Web-based products in support of both individual and overall WLCI efforts.
Milestone FY2013 accomplishments included completing the development of a WLCI inventory and monitoring framework and the associated monitoring strategies, protocols, and analytics; and initial development of an Interagency Inventory and Monitoring Database, which will be accessible through the Monitoring page of the WLCI Web site at http://www.wlci.gov/monitoring. We also completed the initial phase of the mountain shrub-mapping project in the Big Piney-La Barge mule deer winter range. Finally, a 3-year survey of pygmy rabbits in four major gas-field areas was completed and used to validate the pygmy rabbit habitat model/map developed earlier in the project. Important products that became available for use by WLCI partners included publication of USGS Data Series report (http://pubs.usgs.gov/ds/800/pdf/ds800.pdf) that compiles our WLCI land cover and land use data, which depict current and historical patterns of sage-grouse habitat in relation to energy development and will be used to pose “what-if” scenarios to evaluate possible outcomes of alternative land-use strategies and practices on habitat and wildlife. Another important FY2013 product was a journal article(http://aapgbull.geoscienceworld.org/content/97/6/899.full) that describes the Mowry Shale and Frontier formation, which harbors coalbed methane and shale gas resources in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, for use in future scenario-building work. We also produced maps and databases that depict the structure and condition of aspen stands in the Little Mountain Ecosystem, and then presented this information to the Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and other interested entities for supporting aspen-management objectives.
Analysis of 5 years of vegetation monitoring data from Rocky Mountain National Park
The U.S. Geological Survey project—Energy and Environment in the Rocky Mountain Area (EERMA)—has developed a set of virtual tools in the form of an online interactive energy atlas for Colorado and New Mexico to facilitate access to geospatial data related to energy resources, energy infrastructure, and natural resources that may be affected by energy development. The interactive energy atlas currently (2014) consists of three components: (1) a series of interactive maps; (2) downloadable geospatial datasets; and (3) decison-support tools, including two maps related to hydrologic resources discussed in this report. The hydrologic-resource maps can be used to examine the potential effects of energy development on hydrologic resources with respect to (1) groundwater vulnerability, by using the depth to water, recharge, aquifer media, soil media, topography, impact of the vadose zone, and hydraulic conductivity of the aquifer (DRASTIC) model, and (2) landscape erosion potential, by using the revised universal soil loss equation (RUSLE). The DRASTIC aquifer vulnerability index value for the two-State area ranges from 48 to 199. Higher values, indicating greater relative aquifer vulnerability, are centered in south-central Colorado, areas in southeastern New Mexico, and along riparian corridors in both States—all areas where the water table is relatively close to the land surface and the aquifer is more susceptible to surface influences. As calculated by the RUSLE model, potential mean annual erosion, as soil loss in units of tons per acre per year, ranges from 0 to 12,576 over the two-State area. The RUSLE model calculated low erosion potential over most of Colorado and New Mexico, with predictions of highest erosion potential largely confined to areas of mountains or escarpments. An example is presented of how a fully interactive RUSLE model could be further used as a decision-support tool to evaluate the potential hydrologic effects of energy development on a site-specific basis and to explore the effectiveness of various mitigation practices.