A little over one hundred years ago, plains bison were prolific in the Great American West. Reports describe herds containing thousands of animals migrating through the central and western states, totaling 20–30 million across their entire range. With commercial, unregulated hunting in the late 1800s came the rapid demise of bison to barely more than 1,000 by 1889. Recently, renewed interest in restoring these massive animals to at least some of their former range has grown. Efforts are being made to establish “conservation herds”—herds that are specifically managed in the public interest by governments and environmental organizations. For the plains bison native to the United States, there are approximately 19,000 animals comprising 54 known conservation herds...
Where eagles nest, the wind also blows: consolidating habitat and energy needs [Science Feature]
Energy development is rapidly escalating in resource-rich Wyoming, and with it the risks posed to raptor populations. These risks are of increasing concern to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for protecting the persistence of protected species, including raptors. In support of a Federal mandate to protect trust species and the wind energy industry’s need to find suitable sites on which to build wind farms, scientists at the USGS Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) and their partners are conducting research to help reduce impacts to raptor species from wind energy operations. Potential impacts include collision with the turbine blades and habitat disruption and disturbance from construction and operations. This feature describes a science-based tool—a quantitative predictive model—being developed and tested by FORT scientists to potentially avoid or reduce such impacts. This tool will provide industry and resource managers with the biological basis for decisions related to sustainably siting wind turbines in a way that also conserves important habitats for nesting golden eagles. Because of the availability of comprehensive data on nesting sites, golden eagles in Wyoming are the prototype species (and location) for the first phase of this investigation.
Interactive Energy Atlas for Colorado and New Mexico: An online resource for decision-makers and the public [Science Feature]
Carr, N.B., N. Babel, J. Diffendorfer, D. Ignizio, S. Hawkins, N. Latysh, K. Leib, J. Linard, and A. Matherne
In order to balance the benefits of energy development with the potential consequences for ecosystems, recreation, and other resources, managers and other decision-makers need geospatial data on existing energy development and energy potential that is accessible and usable for evaluating tradeoffs among resources, comparing development alternatives, or quantifying cumulative impacts. To allow for a comprehensive evaluation among different energy types, an interdisciplinary team of USGS scientists has developed an online Interactive Energy Atlas for Colorado and New Mexico. The purpose of the EERMA Interactive Energy Atlas is to facilitate access to geospatial data related to energy resources, energy infrastructure, and natural resources that may be affected by energy development. The Atlas is designed to meet the needs of varied users, including GIS analysts, resource managers, policymakers, and the public, who seek information about energy in the western United States.
Blackrock: biological hotspot and hotbed of collaboration [Science Feature]
FORT scientist Erin Muths has been leading a team of researchers investigating amphibian decline at a study site on the Blackrock Ranger Station compound on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in northwestern Wyoming. The work began in 2003, when Dr. Muths and David Pilliod (USGS Forest and Range Ecosystem Science Center) were awarded competitive funding from the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative (ARMI). The research team of Dr. Muths, Dr. Pilliod, and Steve Corn and Blake Hossack (USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center) collaborates with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and other entities to study population demographics and disease ecology for the four species of amphibians that reside on the USFS Blackrock compound. This science feature describes the multi-agency collaboration, the research, and some of the findings, including the unexpected value of a mitigation site when the study site wetland flooded.
Investigating global change, environmental response, and adaptation: Jill Baron's 30 years as an ecosystem ecologist
Three decades of research, 145 publications (including two books), 15 graduate students, leadership in scientific organizations, invited talks around the world, and two collaborative entities that facilitate scientific synthesis—it’s a lot to pack into one career. But USGS research ecologist and Colorado State University senior scientist Jill Baron isn’t finished yet. Since 1981, Dr. Baron has conducted research on the effects of atmospheric deposition (especially nitrogen deposition) on alpine lakes and surrounding ecosystems in the Loch Vale watershed in Rocky Mountain National Park. The foundation for this research is the Loch Vale long-term ecological research and monitoring program, established by Dr. Baron. While Loch Vale provides a site for in-depth, place-based research, Dr. Baron is also involved in national and international initiatives to convey the effects of reactive nitrogen on ecosystems, identify ways for public land managers to prepare for and adapt to climate change, and address the complex interactions of global changes to mountain ecosystems. She is a founding investigator of the Western Mountain Initiative, a multi-agency group of scientists who conduct research to understand and predict the responses of Western mountain ecosystems to climatic variability and change. As a member of the USGS Science Strategy Team, she helped create and now co-directs the John Wesley Powell Center for Earth System Science Analysis and Synthesis. She talks to scientists worldwide as well as school kids and hiking clubs, and provides interviews to scientific and popular media via print, radio, and film. She seems never to stop. But to her, it’s not just about conducting the science and producing data; it’s also about communicating the findings in a way that inspires action and generates solutions. “Being a scientist is both a privilege and a responsibility,” she says. "Scientific knowledge drives us to seek solutions and promote better stewardship of our natural resources.”
Snakes in the wrong places: Gordon Rodda’s career in invasive species research
Public land management agencies continually face resource management problems that are exacerbated by climate warming, land-use change, and other human activities. As the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) works with managers in U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) agencies and other federal, state, and private entities, researchers are finding that the science needed to address these complex ecological questions across time and space produces substantial amounts of data...
Landsat satellites provide high-quality, multi-spectral imagery of the surface of the Earth. These moderate-resolution, remotely sensed images are not just pictures, but contain many layers of data collected at different points along the visible and invisible light spectrum. These data can be manipulated to reveal what the Earth’s surface looks like, including what types of vegetation are present or how a natural disaster has impacted an area...
Seeing the forest and the trees: USGS scientist links local changes to global scale
The recent recipient of two major awards, Craig D. Allen, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Fort Collins Science Center, has loved trees since childhood. He is now considered an expert of world renown on the twin phenomena of forest changes and tree mortality resulting from climate warming and drought, and in 2010 was twice recognized for his scientific contributions...
Once USGS scientist Leanne Hanson became a certified pilot for a small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) called the Raven A, she worked with the USGS Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Project Office to develop a pilot study using the drone to count Sandhill Cranes. In March 2011, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the UAS-FORT team flew the Raven A over Sandhill Cranes migrating through the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Colorado. This feature describes what happened and how the sUAS performed in its first test flight for a natural resources application. Included is a narrated video showing how the Raven-A sUAS works and the views it captures.