Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative: Effectiveness Monitoring

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The Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI) addresses effects of land-use and climate changes on Southwest Wyoming’s natural resources. In partnership with twelve Federal, State, and local natural resource agencies, and non-governmental organizations– FORT and ten other USGS centers are conducting dozens of integrated science projects to assess the status of Southwest Wyoming’s natural resources, the efficacy of habitat management projects, and effects of energy development on wildlife and socioeconomics. We’re also developing protocols for region-level monitoring long-term vegetation trends and modeling future resource conditions. Associated outreach highlights include developing online tools and data resources to support natural resource planning and management, and the efforts of FORT’s WLCI liaison, who spearheads WLCI Science Conferences and integrates science with WLCI management and conservation activities.

Greater Sage grouse flying. T. Gettleman USGS photo.

Greater Sage grouse flying. T. Gettleman USGS photo. 

Federal, State, industry, and nongovernmental organizations have been funding 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.

Effectiveness monitoring includes measuring vegetation and soil responses to treatments, developing methods for using remotely sensed estimates of plant productivity to evaluate habitat treatments, and investigating relations between energy development and soil and surface-water salinity. As part of the USGS WLCI effectiveness-monitoring effort, information is collected to assess the effectiveness of a range of habitat treatments (for example, applying herbicide to sagebrush or thinning aspen stands). Existing data associated with past and current habitat treatments have been acquired and evaluated to assess their effectiveness in meeting WLCI conservation goals. Assessments entail comparing historical treatments of different ages as well as before-and-after comparisons of new treatments. Effectiveness is being measured on the basis of multiple factors, including species composition and cover, bare soil cover, forestry metrics (aspen), and biotic and abiotic properties of soils. In addition, researchers are collaborating with scientists working on projects funded by other sources to ascertain the effects of habitat treatments on wildlife use (for example, greater sage-grouse and elk [Cervus elaphus]), which is an essential measure of success resulting from individual and cumulative habitat treatments.