This is the seventh report produced by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI) to detail annual activities conducted by the USGS for addressing specific management needs identified by WLCI partners. In FY2014, there were 26 projects, including a new one that was completed, two others that were also completed, and several that entered new phases or directions. The 26 projects fall into several categories: (1) synthesizing and analyzing existing data to identify current conditions on the landscape and using the data to develop models for projecting past and future landscape conditions; (2) monitoring indicators of ecosystem conditions and the effectiveness of on-the-ground habitat projects; (3) conducting research to elucidate the mechanisms underlying wildlife and habitat responses to changing land uses; (4) managing and making accessible the large number of databases, maps, and other products being developed; and (5) coordinating efforts among WLCI partners, helping them use USGS-developed decision-support tools, and integrating WLCI outcomes with future habitat enhancement and research projects.
The new (completed) project was the development and publication of a public outreach piece for visitors of Fossil Butte National Monument. The final product was a USGS Fact Sheet that capitalized on previously collected elk-monitoring data to interpret the ecology of the Monument’s elk population and the importance of the Monument’s habitats to this highly visible wildlife species. One of the completed projects entailed developing and evaluating a synthetic approach to high-resolution satellite imagery for use in effectiveness monitoring, which culminated in a journal article. The other completed project was a coalescing of two similar tasks under data and information management that pertain to Web application development and the development of outreach and graphic products into a single integrated project that focuses on developing and maintaining/upgrading Web applications and other tools for visualizing, mapping, and using geospatial data.
Major accomplishments for FY2014 included several publications, including Part B of an energy resources map that (with Part A) depicts coal, wind, oil, gas, oil shale, uranium, and solar energy production in the WLCI region. Two published works associated with sage-grouse included a Wildlife Monograph on prioritizing species’ habitats across large landscapes, multiple seasons, and novel areas (using sage-grouse in Wyoming as an example), and a USGS Data Series report that includes both the data used in the habitat-prioritization models and the habitat prioritization models developed for sage-grouse. Our Science Team also published a framework for conducting large, collaborative projects that rely on geospatial data, and a paper that describes the efficacy of fusing satellite data collected at various resolutions for measuring and monitoring vegetation changes. These products are all invaluable tools for maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of managing species of concern, conducting future landscape-scale assessments, and monitoring status and trends of landscape conditions.
Other highlights of FY2014 included a renewed effort to gather and analyze wildlife and habitat status and trend data for the WLCI Interagency Monitoring Database (IAMD) to assess long-term trends and cumulative effects associated with land-use and climate changes. Water-monitoring efforts included drilling four new groundwater-monitoring wells in the Green and New Fork River basins near the proposed Normally Pressured Lance Formation energy development, and continued data collection at established water-monitoring sites. Three additional wells were sampled as part of the Wyoming Groundwater Monitoring Network, bringing the total to 19 Network wells sampled in the WLCI region since 2010. Combined, these water-monitoring efforts can help to identify potential changes in water quality or levels that may result from land-use changes. Major terrestrial monitoring accomplishments included processing satellite imagery from 1985-2010 to develop a historical perspective of long-term vegetation changes, which can serve as a basis for monitoring current and future trends in sagebrush steppe. Such data are crucial tools for agencies tasked with sage-grouse management and conservation.
The USGS WLCI Science Team also continued monitoring and testing methods for evaluating WLCI habitat treatments designed to promote aspen regeneration and enhance sage-grouse habitat, and to assess how those treatments influence invasive species distributions and ungulate herbivory. Highlights included analyzing field data collected to elucidate the relationships between sage-grouse habitat use and the proximity of energy infrastructure, and using new instruments to measure productivity responses of aspen woodlands to various factors.
Numerous FY2014 accomplishments specifically addressed agency needs to manage and conserve Wyoming’s wildlife species of concern. A pygmy rabbit habitat model and Wyoming distribution map were completed to identify factors associated with rabbit habitat occupancy. Previous work on sage-grouse population dynamics was expanded to better understand the factors that drive long-term viability of sage-grouse populations and to develop a tool that helps to identify key factors limiting sage-grouse persistence in Wyoming. Field work and data analyses continued for elucidating the relationships between sagebrush songbird abundance and productivity, the intensity of energy development, and community dynamics of nest predators. For the mule deer study, mixed mountain shrublands important to migrating and wintering mule deer were mapped and delivered to WLCI partners. Additionally, the relationships between energy development and crucial winter habitat for mule deer were evaluated, and a new phase of work was implemented to better understand relationships between plant phenology and mule deer migration movements. Finally, initial analyses of data collected to evaluate fish-community composition in relation to habitat quality indicate that water quality, as measured by concentrations of hydrocarbons, water temperature, and others parameters, has been diminished in subwatersheds with higher levels of energy development. Overall, the outcomes and products of these wildlife studies contribute significantly to the information and tools needed for addressing effects of land-use changes on Wyoming’s species of concern.
Finally, capabilities of the WLCI Web site and the USGS ScienceBase infrastructure were maintained and upgraded to help ensure access to and efficient use of all the WLCI data, products, assessment tools, and outreach materials that have been developed. Of particular note is the completion of three Web applications developed for mapping (1) the 1900-2008 progression of oil and gas development;(2) the predicted distributions of Wyoming’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need; and (3) the locations of coal and wind energy production, sage-grouse distribution and core management areas, and alternative routes for transmission lines within the WLCI region. Collectively, these applications tools provide WLCI planners and managers with powerful tools for better understanding the distributions of wildlife species and potential alternatives for energy development.