Energy Development and Changing Land Uses

Science Center Objects

Applied research and integrated regional assessments emphasize spatially explicit analyses of ecosystem components affected by energy development and land-use change in the western United States. Topics include sagebrush-steppe ecology; sagebrush habitat assessments; the effets of human activities (including energy development, transportation, and recreation) on habitats and wildlife behavior; habitat fragmentation and migration corridors; and technical assistance development for managers and decision makers.

The beautiful Wyoming sky over the Oregon Buttes.

The beautiful Wyoming sky over the Oregon Buttes. Photo by Sam Cox.

The Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI) - Principal Investigator - Pat Anderson

Federal, State, industry, and nongovernmental organizations fund habitat improvement treatments across southwestern Wyoming. A primary goal of the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI) is to monitor and assess the effectiveness of these treatments at individual sites and evaluate their effectiveness in meeting landscape-level conservation goals, such as connecting fragmented habitats. The Effectiveness Monitoring task is intended to help guide the design and development of future habitat treatments and to improve the ability of these treatments to meet WLCI landscape conservation objectives.




A male sage grouse struts his stuff on the sage steppe.

A male sage grouse struts his stuff. USGS photo.

Incorporating Genetic Data into Spatially-explicit Population Viability Models for Gunnison Sage-grouse - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler-McCance

This goal of this study is to develop a spatially explicit habitat-population modeling framework to assess the viability of Gunnison Sage-grouse and each of the seven populations (Gunnison Basin and six satellite populations). Components of this process include characterizing habitat for the Gunnison Basin and satellite populations, developing a spatially explicit individual-based model, simulating population dynamics and persistence to identify population thresholds and characterize population resiliency, redundancy, and representation (and indicating possible strategies for improvements to these), quantifying the impacts of alternative habitat restoration and translocation strategies on regional and local population persistence, comparing model outcomes to previous PVA approaches and results, and setting the stage for future model applications that comprehensively address specific threats and stressors like climate change. In collaboration with Colorado State University.



Greater Sage Grouse Hen with Brood on Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

A hen greater sage grouse and her brood head to Seedskadee NWR wetlands to spend the day.

Tools for Managing and Monitoring Sage Grouse - Principal Investigator - Zachary Bowen

To better understand how land-use changes are affecting greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), FORT is collaborating with USGS centers FRESC, GECSC, WERC, and EROS; the BLM; Colorado State University; and the WLCI to develop information and tools for managing and monitoring grouse. Projects include improving the efficacy of population size and trend estimators and comparing population viability across different management zones. We are also evaluating factors that may limit population persistence, such as energy development, climate- induced vegetation changes, grazing regimes, and the effectiveness of core management areas established for grouse.


Population Growth in Nogales, Arizona

Photograph credit: William Page, USGS. Public domain.



Assessing Threats to Conservation Priority Areas in State Wildlife Action Plans - Principal Investigator - Sarah Carter

States across the U.S. have developed Wildlife Action Plans, with the purpose of preventing future listings under the federal Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss and fragmentation are key threats to wildlife in the U.S., and housing development is a major driver of both. USGS is working to quantify the vulnerability of and threat to priority areas in State Wildlife Action Plans from future housing development to help inform effective and efficient targeting of conservation actions.




Mountain goats in Glacier National Park, Montana

(Credit: Kim Keating, USGS. Public domain.)


Higher and Farther: Patterns of Development within Protected Areas - Principal Investigator - Sarah Carter 

There is a well-known bias in the location of protected areas both within the US and globally. Lands protected for conservation tend to be located on less productive soils at high elevations far from cities. USGS is exploring whether this ‘high and far’ paradigm applies within protected areas as well. That is, does human modification within lands that already have some degree of protection, also occur preferentially on more productive soils at low elevations close to cities?



A photo of a hatching desert tortoise.

A photo of a hatching desert tortoise. Public domain.


Informing Habitat Management for Desert Tortoise - Principal Investigator - Sarah Carter 

There is increasing support for adopting landscape approaches to resource management, including monitoring threats that affect multiple resources across broad extents. However, there remains a need to assess potential threats to individual species of conservation concern. USGS is evaluating the extent to which a generalized indicator of terrestrial development can be used to inform and evaluate conservation actions seeking to protect habitat for the Mojave and Sonoran desert tortoise.



Boy in a meadow of wildflowers near Fulford, CO. Photo by Mindy Ritchie, USGS.

Boy in a meadow near Fulford, CO. Summer of 2014. Photo by: Mindy Ritchie, USGS. Public domain.


Quantifying Ecological Integrity in Terrestrial systems - Principal Investigator - Sarah Carter 

Ecological integrity describes the condition of ecological systems, and has been quantified in aquatic systems for decades. The U.S. Forest Service is now required to monitor ecological integrity, and the Bureau of Land Management has an interest in doing so as well. As a result, USGS is working to define and quantify the concept of ecological integrity in terrestrial, multiple use landscapes to help managers and the public to gain a broader understanding of the condition of ecological systems across federal lands.




Greater Sage grouse flying. T. Gettleman USGS photo.

Greater Sage grouse flying. T. Gettleman USGS photo. Public domain.


Developing Broad Scale Indicators for Monitoring Ecosystems and Landscapes - Principal Investigator - Sarah Carter 

Many issues currently facing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other large land managers span large landscapes, including sage-grouse conservation, wildfires, and energy development. Such challenges involve changes at both local and broad scales, but monitoring has typically focused at the scale of individual sites. The USGS is working to develop broad-scale indicators for monitoring landscapes and to standardize methods and datasets for quantifying the broad-scale indicators.



Image: Greater Sage Grouse

One of the most interesting aspects of the greater sage grouse is its nearly complete reliance on sagebrush. These birds cannot survive in areas where sagebrush does not exist. Photo by: Stephen Ting, Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain.



Science Support for Implementing a Landscape Approach to Resource Management in the Bureau of Land Management - Principal Investigator - Sarah Carter

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is committed to implementing a landscape approach to resource management to help achieve sustainable social, environmental, and economic outcomes on the public lands it manages. USGS is providing science support for the effort, including identifying core principles of a landscape approach, demonstrating the benefits of multiscale data for evaluating potential effects of management decisions, and highlighting questions that need to be answered at ecoregional scales to inform future actions.




Wind Turbines

Wind turbines. Photo by: Joshua Winchell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain.



Resources for Understanding the Effects of Wind Energy Development - Principal Investigator - Zachary Bowen

As the Nation strives to lessen its dependence on foreign oil, domestic energy production has increased dramatically. This is especially true for renewable energy sources such as wind: from 2007 to 2009, for example, wind energy development increased 341 percent in Wyoming (Fig. 1, Science tab), and it continues on that trajectory today. However, the effects of renewable energy development on wildlife and habitats remain largely undocumented.





Image shows sagebrush lands with cloudy sky

Sagebrush lands in southwestern Wyoming. Photo by: Anna Wilson, USGS. Public domain.

Conservation of Sagebrush Ecosystems and Wildlife - Principal Investigators - Zachary Bowen and Cameron Aldridge

Sagebrush ecosystems are diverse habitats found throughout western North America that support a variety of flora and fauna. Home to unique wildlife such as Sage-grouse, Sage Thrashers, Brewer's Sparrows, Ferruginous Hawks, and pygmy rabbits, these ecosystems have undergone intense changes since the time when millions of bison roamed the plains. European settlement and intense agricultural practices resulted in the loss of over half of the sagebrush ecosystem. Today, sagebrush habitats continue to be threatened by a variety of influences. Conversion of these native landscapes to agriculture, invasion by non-native plant species, energy extraction activities and associated developments, rural expansion, and intense grazing pressures can all reduce, degrade, or fragment remaining habitats.