Fort Collins Science Center Scientists Share Expertise at Society for Range Management Meeting

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Scientists from the US Geological Survey Fort Collins Science Center will be presenting on topics ranging from sage-grouse to invasive plant species at the upcoming Society for Range Management Annual Meeting. 

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Fort Collins Science Center will be presenting at the upcoming Society for Range Management Annual Meeting on topics ranging from sage-grouse to invasive plant species. The Society for Range Management is a professional scientific society and conservation organization whose members are concerned with studying, conserving, managing and sustaining the varied resources of rangelands throughout the world. The Annual Meeting, held February 15-18, will bring together land managers, scientists, educators, students, producers and conservationists.  

This annual gathering provides an ideal opportunity for USGS scientists to share their knowledge and expertise with current range management professionals and student participants that represent the next generation of rangeland managers and scientists. This annual meeting also provides a valuable opportunity for USGS scientists to contribute to the expansion of rangeland science through interactions with other scientific professionals and development future collaborations. All of these activities will help contribute to the ultimate goal of sustainable management and conservation of rangelands. 

Presentation abstracts are included below. Authors listed in bold are USGS scientists or affiliated student contractors.


1) Application of a conceptual model of science integration into public land decision-making as a foundation for institutional efforts to bridge the science-management gap

  • Travis S. Haby, Sarah K. CarterJennifer K. MeinekeAlison C. Foster, Laine E. McCall, Leigh D. Espy, Megan A. Gilbert, Karen L. Prentice 
  • Abstract: Federal agencies manage approximately one-third of U.S. rangelands.  Agencies are committed to using science to inform planning and management decisions. Consideration of relevant science information is critical for comprehensive and defensible National Environmental Policy Act analyses.  Availability of management-relevant science is influenced by the effectiveness of communication between resource managers and research scientists. Federal land management generally lacks dedicated extension organizations to facilitate management-science communication, leaving scientists and managers to improvise strategies to bridge the science-management gap.  The authors developed a conceptual model of science integration into public lands decision-making as a foundation for institutional efforts to bridge the science-management gap. Our model is grounded in the NEPA analysis framework and identifies four types of science information needed: 1) data on resources, 2) science about potential impacts of actions on resources, 3) standard methods for analyzing those impacts, and 4) effective mitigation actions.  We applied this model to a stratified random sample of Environmental Assessments completed by the BLM in Colorado between 2015 and 2019 to identify: the actions and resources analyzed; the resources for which direct, indirect, and cumulative effects are quantified; and the resources for which mitigation actions are identified.  Preliminary results indicate commonly proposed actions were fluid minerals development, livestock grazing, land transactions, and recreation. The resources most frequently analyzed included terrestrial wildlife, migratory/protected birds, water, soils, vegetation, and cultural resources. Potential effects of proposed actions were most often quantified for terrestrial wildlife and air quality, illustrating best practices that might be applied to other resources. Mitigation actions were regularly identified for invasive plants, migratory/protected birds, and cultural resources.  Application of the conceptual model facilitated a structured collaborative analysis of agency decisions, leading to improved understanding and articulation of potential needs for both emerging science and for translating existing science for management application. 


2) Evaluating the greater sage-grouse umbrella for grassland birds in northeastern Wyoming 

  • Courtney DuchardtAdrian MonroeCameron AldridgeDavid Edmunds, Matthew Holloran, Alison Holloran, David Pellatz, Zachary Bowen 
  • Abstract: Steep biodiversity declines across North American rangelands have led researchers and managers to seek ways to balance the needs of multiple species of conservation concern. The umbrella species concept provides an opportunity to protect diverse wildlife under the umbrella of a single charismatic species. Prairie and shrubland grouse have been advanced as umbrellas for these ecosystems, however the actual efficacy of these umbrellas has been variable and a test of how well the umbrella functions at transitional zones between ecoregions is lacking. We evaluated the extent of overlap between the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) umbrella and grassland songbirds in northeastern Wyoming, at the ecotone between the sagebrush steppe and the Great Plains. We leveraged existing data layers representing nesting and brood-rearing sage-grouse habitat and habitat suitability for eight grassland songbird species. We applied a permutation-based hypothesis test using neutral landscape models to determine whether overlap between our focal songbirds and greater sage-grouse was greater than expected by chance (an underlying assumption of an umbrella species). In a 90% 2-tailed test, three songbird species (western meadowlark, horned lark, and lark bunting) had greater overlap than expected by chance, and loggerhead shrike displayed marginal overlap, while western kingbirds showed a marginally negative relationship. No relationship was observed between sage grouse and grasshopper sparrows, vesper sparrows, or lark sparrows. Three of the four positively associated species either nest within sagebrush (loggerhead shrike) or often select nest locations underneath sagebrush (western meadowlark, lark bunting), highlighting nesting substrate as an important niche axis to consider when evaluating the umbrella species concept. This research helps improve our understanding of the functionality of the sage-grouse umbrella for grassland songbirds at the eastern edge of the sagebrush steppe. 


3) Science-management information gaps and solutions for surface management of oil and gas in the Intermountain West 

  • Michael C. Duniway, Rebecca Mann, Molly McCormick, Patrick Anderson, Seth Munson, Randi Lupardus, David S. Pilliod, Steve Hanser, and Zack Bowen 
  • Abstract: Successful reclamation of disturbed lands following oil and gas development can be challenging.  Oil and gas development on US public lands is concentrated in the Intermountain West, much of which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and characterized by dry conditions, challenging soils, and heterogeneous landscapes. The objectives of the review described here are to determine the oil and gas surface management information needs of the BLM, review the available scientific literature to address these needs, and identify knowledge gaps that may limit effective management and successful reclamation.  These objectives were addressed through: (1) a review of relevant BLM oil and gas planning documents; (2) conducting interviews with BLM staff who work in surface management of fluid minerals; and (3) a comprehensive literature review to identify peer-reviewed literature related to oil and gas management and policies.  We structured our findings around standards for defining success, monitoring methods, and reclamation practices. In general, our document review and interviews revealed a high need in specific areas:  (1) scientifically robust standards that can be applied across heterogeneous environments, (2) updated monitoring approaches that can quickly and consistently collect needed data, and (3) approaches for evaluating outcome trends across an entire oil field or landscape. We found a few examples of field offices with standards and innovative adaptive management, and significant work in the literature on monitoring that can be applied to oil and gas.  Although the largest proportion of scientific literature was in the ‘practices’ topic area, interviews suggest there is still insufficient knowledge to reclaim sites that have challenging soils and dry climate conditions. We conclude by identifying specific synthesis and science needs, as well as describing new web tools the USGS is developing to help address some of the science and management information gaps addressed in our review. 


4) INHABIT: a web application to deliver habitat suitability models and bridge the scientist-practitioner divide  

  • Peder Engelstad, Catherine S. JarnevichJillian LaRoe, Terri Hogan, Ian Pearse, Janet Prevey, Jennifer Seiracki, Helen Sofaer 
  • Abstract: Many practitioners are hampered by the scope of the invasive species problem compared to available resources that combat invasive species. Habitat suitability models for invasive species can provide practitioners with information to advise watch lists and target population searches. While many suitability models exist, there is often a divide between researchers creating these models and practitioners who may find them useful in informing land management actions.  We have formed a scientist-practitioner partnership to create national models for priority species that are integrated into the Invasive Species Habitat Tool (INHABIT), a web application displaying visual and statistical summaries of nationwide habitat suitability models. The models are based on aggregated occurrence data and a species-specific set of predictors from a library of environmental predictors we have assembled. The models are built following a common protocol, promoting model repeatability and credibility. Managers provide feedback both on the models and INHABIT’s features, iteratively improving the content and functionality of INHABIT. This app is designed to provide practical information leading to enhanced land management actions, including mapped products with interactive thresholds to define suitability based on management objectives (with field-device compatible download options), information on modeled environmental relationships, and tabular proximity summaries to inform management area watch lists.  Based on comments and suggestions of practitioners, INHABIT is actively evolving to help bridge the gap between scientists and practitioners. 


5) Coupling process-based and empirical models to assess management options for an invasive grass amidst uncertainty 

  • Catherine S. Jarnevich, Catherine Cullinane Thomas, Nicholas E. Young, Perry Grissom, Dana Backer, Leonardo Frid 
  • Abstract: Invasive species often pose a significant challenge for resource managers due to uncertainties around their impacts, including impacts on ecological processes, and effective treatment strategies. Resource managers face difficult decisions finding efficient ways to expend limited resources to manage large and complex landscapes and multiple invasive species. These decisions can be affected by uncertainties in climates and invader induced novel processes, such as invasive grass influenced fires. We developed state-and-transition simulation models to study the invasion of a national park by a perennial grass that can impact native biodiversity and ecosystem processes to evaluate (1) what uncertainties may influence outcomes, (2) how many resources are needed to meet management objectives, and (3) how to spatially allocate the limited resources available. Without buffelgrass control fire can be expected to increase in the non-fire adapted desert ecoregions of the park, and uncertainty in how precipitation impacts buffelgrass growth can influence outcomes. Management strategies and ecological scenarios strongly influenced the ability to meet management objectives; the inclusion of a new management strategy that can target low cover levels in remote regions, aerial precision spot spraying, was needed to supplement current spraying treatments that can only target land with dense buffelgrass patches. Spot spraying also proved highly beneficial when wetter monsoonal conditions created faster buffelgrass growth rates, which decreased the ability to contain buffelgrass even with unlimited management resources. With the amount of buffelgrass estimated on the landscape in 2014, the annual budget for control, and adding spot spraying as a treatment option, the park may be able to control buffelgrass, regardless of ways the landscape is prioritized. Coupling empirical and process-based models allowed us to efficiently simulate a wide range of possible future management scenarios with the addition of both wildfires that lack historical precedent and climatic uncertainty with its interaction with spread rates. Each scenario considers management actions and ecological uncertainties to inform invasive species management activities. 


6) Quantifying aspects of land health at watershed scales in Colorado using broadscale data 

  • Nathan J. Kleist, Christopher Domschke, Sarah K. Carter 
  • Abstract: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adopted a set of state land health standards for Colorado in 1995 that describe the physical and biological conditions required for healthy lands and sustainable uses. These land health standards are commonly assessed as part of the grazing permit renewal process using indicators that are measured with field-based data collected from multiple individual sites within allotments. However, BLM guidance suggests assessing land health at larger spatial scales, such as fifth-level watersheds. We explored the potential for quantifying aspects of land health at watershed scales using indicators that can be measured with existing broadscale spatial datasets. We present an exploratory case study quantifying selected land health indicators at fifth-level watersheds within a BLM field office in Colorado. We limited consideration of potential broadscale datasets to those that are publicly available, have a published accuracy assessment, and have adequate thematic detail for priority land cover types in Colorado. We found that multiple indicators can be reliably quantified using these datasets and are relevant to Colorado land health standards. We suggest that a broadscale approach to quantifying aspects of land health at watershed scales can complement current, field-based monitoring and assessment efforts including BLM’s Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM) program and Interpreting Indicators of Rangeland Health (IIRH) by providing a broader context for land health assessments conducted at the scale of individual allotments. Integrating broadscale perspectives into the land health assessment process may help managers identify target areas where additional, field-based sampling is needed and instances where the potential cause of observed conditions is operating at a spatial scale that is broader than the individual allotment, such as when increases in bare ground, specific native vegetation types, or invasive species are occurring across multiple allotments in association with changes in landscape-level conditions or disturbances 


7) Landscape Prioritization for Bird-Friendly Ranching Using Hierarchical Community Models 

  • Adrian P. MonroeDavid R. Edmunds, Alison G. Holloran, Cameron L. Aldridge, Matthew J. Holloran, Timothy J. Assal 
  • Abstract: Declines of bird populations breeding in North American rangelands are important and widespread, and implementing management that sustains rancher livelihoods while offering opportunities for wildlife could attenuate or reverse these trends. However, response of bird communities to management can vary across landscapes, and identifying areas with the greatest potential bird response is a pressing research need because time and other resources are limited. In northeast Wyoming, USA, Audubon Rockies is working with ranchers through the Conservation Ranching Initiative, a market-based approach to conservation that connects conservation-conscious consumers to rangelands managed with bird-friendly practices. To help prioritize this effort, we used bird surveys from 175 sites (2009−2018) conducted with the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) protocol, and we fit a hierarchical community model to estimate bird distribution and abundance of multiple species while accounting for variation in detectability. We then created spatially-explicit predictions across the study area, identifying locations with potential for high bird abundance and richness where the Conservation Ranching Initiative could be prioritized. We also evaluated relationships with more fine-scale habitat components to infer potential management for each species. Finally, our framework established a baseline for continued monitoring as the Conservation Ranching Initiative is implemented across the landscape, which will clarify the link between consumer decisions and conservation outcomes. 


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