Targeted Research and Monitoring

Research Project: 

PB00D8K.2

Project Manager: 

Stephen Germaine

Statement of Problem

Wyoming supports a diverse flora/fauna (an estimated 297 species identified as having the greatest conservation need). Species of conservation concern include 54 mammals, 60 birds, 26 reptiles, 12 amphibians, 40 fishes, 19 crustaceans, and 68 mollusks. The Green River Basin of Southwest Wyoming is dominated by sagebrush-steppe habitat, which has declined in western North America by nearly 50 percent since Anglo-European settlement. Because the majority of sagebrush steppe in Wyoming occurs on public lands, Wyoming plays an important role in the conservation of sagebrush-dependent and sagebrush-obligate species, including white-tailed prairie dogs (currently under reconsideration for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act), sage sparrows, pygmy rabbits (considered critically imperiled in Wyoming; currently under reconsideration for federal ESA listing), greater sage-grouse (currently under reconsideration for federal ESA listing), ungulates, and several amphibian and reptile species. Recent and ongoing land-use changes in Southwest Wyoming are transforming the landscape composition, resulting in habitat loss/fragmentation---thus, increasing the threat of harm to wildlife populations. Furthermore, each year, habitat enhancements and vegetation treatments are applied across Southwest Wyoming (during FY07/08, more than 50 conservation enhancement projects were proposed through the WLCI and other government and nongovernmental organizations). In the past, however, little effort has been made to assess the effectiveness of treatments to meet their stated goals and even less to evaluate their collective effectiveness in meeting landscape-level conservation goals like connecting fragmented habitats. Overall, current long-term and effectiveness monitoring in the Green River Basin of Southwest Wyoming is insufficient for assessing cumulative effects or the effectiveness of on-the-ground treatments. When long-term monitoring is coupled with management, it also has the potential to be used for early warning, whereby management interventions are triggered before reaching critical and potentially costly levels of action. Thus, it is crucial to implement project-level effectiveness and long-term monitoring of key indicators to compare management targets, benchmarks, or goals for informing the decision-making process within an adaptive management context.

Objectives

This task entails three subtasks, the overall objectives of which are to monitor Southwest Wyoming ecosystem condition over the long run, monitor the effectiveness of on-the-ground habitat treatments to enhance or maintain wildlife populations, and improve our overall understanding of the mechanisms behind population dynamics of key wildlife groups or species of conservation concern. Objective of Subtask 2.1—Initiate monitoring for landscape-level, long-term trends using key response variables. Objective of Subtask 2.2—Initiate effectiveness monitoring for 07-08 habitat treatments and mitigation using key response variables. Objective of Subtask 2.3—Design and initiate studies to address mechanisms and processes by which key species and populations are affected by energy development activities.

Methods

The overall approach for this task is to conduct landscape-scale, long-term monitoring to ascertain ecosystem changes associated with energy development, other land-use changes, and climate change; monitor the effectiveness of habitat-improvement and mitigation projects; and conduct research to elucidate the mechanisms behind wildlife responses to changes on the landscape. More specifically, the first step will be to stratify characteristics of Southwest Wyoming to ensure appropriate representation of indicator variables and the requisite intensity of sampling to maximize the accuracy of indicator estimates. This will enable us to design and implement the long-term and effectiveness monitoring programs, including monitoring of wildlife (including mule deer, sage-grouse, songbird communities, herptiles, fish communities, invertebrate pollinators, small mammal communities, pygmy rabbits, habitat/vegetation communities (including invasive plants), water, and soils. See each subtask for detailed methods.