Habitat and Landscape Alteration

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USGS research on wildlife behavior, abundance, and sources of mortality are improving our understanding of the specific effects of renewable energy on wildlife and habitats. This knowledge is guiding the development of effective strategies to minimize the impact of renewable energy development on wildlife.  USGS is improving and developing software models and statistical tools that can be used to measure the effectiveness of mitigation strategies and help avoid siting projects in areas with high wildlife fatality potential and habitat disturbance. These tools and additional data collected from monitoring activities improve the ability of resource managers to determine how and where future facilities should be built and operated. 

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

Icons for biofuel, transmission lines, geothermal, hydropower, mining, oil and gas extraction, and wind energy

Abbreviations used in project descriptions are defined on the Energy and Wildife Abbrevations page.

Projects below also are grouped into the following categories:

Amphibians, Mammals, and Reptiles

Bats, Birds, and Raptors

Fish and Aquatic Species

Landscape Alteration

Pollinators

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Amphibians, Mammals, and Reptiles

 

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Desert Tortoise Translocations and Habitat Restoration

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

Renewable energy projects in southern California are frequently sited in desert tortoise habitat, creating the need to translocate tortoises to new areas. USGS scientists are studying desert tortoise habitat, disease prevalence, and shelter choices in support of wildlife and land-management decisions regarding site selection for tortoise translocations.

 

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Distribution and Abundance of Pacific Walrus in Relation to Offshore Development in Alaska

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Increasing ice-free periods in the Arctic creates greater opportunities for offshore oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. These activities, and their reliance on onshore infrastructure and shipping, require information on the distribution of Pacific walrus and their habitats to identify ways for industry to operate effectively while meeting conservation goals set by government agencies. USGS scientists developed novel satellite radio tracking devices to map feeding areas used by walruses. These maps are used by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard for managing vessel transit corridors. Scientists are now developing ways to use unmanned aircraft systems to estimate the abundance and distribution of Pacific walruses and their habitats in the Chukchi Sea. These studies have informed incidental take regulations and mitigation measures that can guide offshore development in minimizing interactions with walrus foraging and resting areas.

 

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Distribution and Habitat Associations of Narrowly Endemic Great Basin Toads

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

Several species and subspecies of toads (Anaxyrus spp.) in the Great Basin are endemic to small spring systems, but the ecology of these toads is poorly understood. Entire ranges of these species, including the recently described Dixie Valley toad, are often in areas suitable for geothermal and other energy development. In 2018, USGS, in collaboration with BLM, USFWS, Department of Defense, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, initiated a research and monitoring program designed to better understand the ecology of narrowly endemic toads in the Great Basin. This research can be used to inform land-use and conservation planning efforts for these distinctive toads.

 

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Florida Manatee Movement and Habitat Use in the Northern Gulf of Mexico 

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

USGS scientists are investigating the distribution of Florida manatees and their habitats and travel corridors in the northern GOM. Health assessments were performed on manatees known to travel to the northern GOM, and GPS tracking devices that provide telemetry to acquire fine-scale habitat use and movement were attached to the mammals. Scientists are also conducting field studies to characterize local resources in areas that support manatee habitat or consistent use. This information is being used to inform the risk of interactions between manatees and vessels traveling to and from oil and gas structures.

 

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Measuring the Impacts of Industrial Activities on Polar Bears

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS scientists are characterizing change in the abundance, distribution, and health of polar bears relative to human activities in the Arctic. These studies emphasize the identification of critical habitats potentially at risk of disturbance from industrial activities along Alaska’s arctic coast. This work has informed efforts of DOI agencies and industry when considering the consequences of oil spills and exposures to pollutants and actions to mitigate such occurrences. USGS continues to work closely with DOI and industry partners to identify circumstances in which industrial activities likely adversely affect polar bears. Future work is expected to focus on the potential for resource development activities on land and offshore to directly and indirectly benefit polar bear behavior and health.

 

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Migration Corridors for Big Game

Cooperative Research Unit: Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

As habitat loss and fragmentation increase across ungulate ranges, identifying and prioritizing migration routes for land-use planning and conservation has taken on a new urgency. Research attention is currently focused on determining whether continued energy development will lead to the loss of the foraging benefit of migration. USGS research in Wyoming has advanced our understanding of the importance of migration for large ungulates in the West, specifically quantifying how migrating animals track spring green-up during migration, a behavior termed “surfing the green wave.” Research on corridors in which migrating animals interact with housing and energy development suggests that the resulting behavioral modifications can alter optimal foraging. In collaboration with Federal, State, and university partners, USGS has developed the Migration Mapper software that provides a step-by-step analysis to map migration corridors from the underlying GPS locations. Resulting corridor maps can easily be made available for managers, policymakers, land trusts, sportsmen’s groups, and other NGOs to use in conservation planning. A current effort is underway, through USGS-led regional workshops, to train wildlife managers from Western States to analyze migration data, and USGS continues to develop tools and methods necessary to identify opportunities to enhance conservation and management of ungulate migration corridors.

 

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Pacific Marine Bird and Mammal Research and Monitoring Programs

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

USGS and partners have gathered information about marine bird and mammal research and monitoring programs into an online database to support environmental risk assessments for species and habitats sensitive to offshore energy activities in the southern California and Washington-Oregon Planning Areas and the Hawaiian OCS of BOEM. The database includes information from programs that assessed distribution, abundance, and biology of marine birds, such as seabirds, waterbirds, sea ducks, or shorebirds, and marine mammals, such as cetaceans, pinnipeds, or sea otters. Much of the information focuses on species protected under the Endangered Species or Marine Mammal Protection Acts. This database can be easily updated as new information becomes available.

 

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Pygmy Rabbit Distribution and Abundance Relative to Energy Development in Wyoming

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

Pygmy rabbits rely on sagebrush for both food and cover year-round and are sensitive to oil and gas development. Pygmy rabbits are a species of conservation concern in several States. In Wyoming, USGS scientists are investigating the influence of oil and gas development on pygmy rabbit populations. This research can help determine the distribution of pygmy rabbit habitat relative to ongoing oil and gas well development and how far from the nearest well pad, road, or pipelines pygmy rabbit presence and abundance may be affected. The scientists anticipate expanding this work to other States where pygmy rabbits and energy development co-occur. This information can help inform the development of future oil and gas fields and reduce the effects of disturbance on pygmy rabbits and other sagebrush obligate wildlife.

 

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Sea Turtle Movements and Habitat Use in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

USFWS and NOAA’s NMFS identified that information on the distribution, seasonal movements, vital rates, and habitat use for all life stages of marine turtles is needed to recover these threatened and endangered species. USGS scientists are attaching satellite tags and acceleration data loggers capable of logging dive data to provide fine-scale information on the dive profiles of Kemp’s ridleys, loggerheads, and green sea turtles in the GOM. These dive profiles provide insight into turtle depth use, movement patterns, mortality risk, use of post-dredge sites, use of preferred thermal zones, and time spent near the vicinity of dredging activities. This study can directly address recovery and protection goals and provide information on in-water aggregations of sub-adult, juvenile, and adult marine turtles in the GOM.

Collage of mammals affected by energy development

From left: Elk grazing (Credit: Danielle Brigida, USFWS). Manatee (Credit: Nick Aumen, USGS). Mule Deer (Credit: Shelley Koerner, USFWS). Polar Bear (Credit: Mario Hoppmann, NASA). Pronghorn (Credit: Tom Koerner, USFWS). (Public domain.)

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Bats, Birds, and Raptors

 

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Advancing Wildlife Monitoring Technologies Using Weather Surveillance Radar

Science Center: Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

USGS research in aeroecology relies on advancing radar and other kinds of remote sensing technology to understand the behavior and ecology of flying animals. USGS is using both historical data and present-day technologies to observe wildlife behaviors in response to changing habitats and landscapes, such as wind and solar energy development and artificial light, as well as ecological barriers and extreme weather events. This research can help with the development of tools designed to predict risks to flying animals.

 

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Birds and the Bakken Formation: Oil Well, Land Cover, and Species Distribution Data

Science Center: Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

USGS is leading a project to measure the effects of well development on birds in the Williston Basin in eastern Montana, western North Dakota, and South Dakota. Scientists plan to create maps that combine data on habitat conversion and species distribution to describe the effects of disturbance from oil well pads on biodiversity. Models are also being developed to display past and potential future effects of energy development on grassland birds. This information may assist managers with prioritizing areas for conservation in the Williston Basin.

 

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Breeding Territory Retention in Pacific and Yellow-Billed Loons in the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS scientists evaluated the role of breeding success and competition on territory retention by Pacific and yellow-billed loons. Annual territory retention rates were greater than 90 percent regardless of prior nesting success in a territory. Occupied territories were also frequently visited by nonbreeding loons. Yellow-billed loon results suggest there is limited habitat in the NPR–A for new territories, and the extent of breeding habitat in northern Alaska may be limiting the size of the breeding population. In contrast, Pacific loons appear more able to establish new territories outside occupied territories. Study results indicate that territory retention and apparent survival rates for both loon species are high, and chick production does not affect loon territory retention. This information may be useful for guiding future oil and gas development near yellow-billed loon nesting areas.

 

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Condor Flight Behavior Near Wind Energy Facilities

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Scientists from USGS, USFWS, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and BLM are using high-frequency GPS-GSM telemetry to study flight responses of California condors to understand the risk these raptors face from potential wind energy development. Tracking 24 condors for nearly 2 years, researchers found that although the condors only occasionally flew at altitudes in the rotor-swept zone of turbines, they regularly used classes of winds preferred by wind energy developers. The collision risk to large soaring birds from turbines should be relatively lower over flatter, less rugged areas and in habitat used during daytime soaring. This information can be used by wind energy developers to predict and avoid the risk to condors from existing and proposed turbines.

 

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Documenting Movements, Habitat Use, and Foraging Patterns of Common Loons and Long-Tailed Ducks

Science Center: Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

USGS scientists are using satellite telemetry and archival geolocator tags to document the movements, habitat use, and foraging patterns of common loons during migration across the Great Lakes. Additional work is underway to radiomark long-tailed ducks to determine their local movement patterns while wintering at Lake Michigan. These data on waterbird seasonal movement patterns and core use areas can be used to inform environmental impact assessments of potential wind turbine placement and assist managers to identify, evaluate, and suggest alternate wind facility sites in the Great Lakes.

 

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Effects of Energy Development on Greater Sage-Grouse and Their Predators 

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

An increasing human footprint across ecosystems in the American West often results in disturbance to native vegetation and related changes that are favorable to generalist predator species, such as ravens. A large portion of the Great Basin supports proposed and recently developed energy transmission lines and renewable energy sources, such as geothermal energy and wind. Further energy infrastructure development could continue to fragment the contiguous sagebrush-steppe ecosystems that provide seasonal habitat for greater sage-grouse populations. USGS, in collaboration with other Federal and State agencies and private industry, is working to understand how energy development and habitat loss influence predator-prey interactions between ravens and nesting sage-grouse. This science can provide resource managers with information and tools to help develop guidelines for future energy-related projects that minimize adverse impacts on sage-grouse populations.

 

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Estimating Displacement Rates of Grassland Birds and Waterfowl From Wind Energy Development

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

Indirect impacts of wind energy development can include the displacement of some species of breeding grassland birds. USGS scientists have partnered with USFWS to develop a method for quantifying displacement rates of grassland birds and waterfowls from wind energy development to provide an option for industry to mitigate for land-use changes associated with development. Using results from previous studies that established displacement behavior in several species of grassland birds and waterfowl, USGS and USFWS scientists can estimate the amount of grasslands and wetlands needed to support displaced pairs of birds. This tool can be applied in situations where compensatory mitigation for impacted habitat is desirable or required.

 

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External GPS-GSM Transmitters for Tracking Seabirds

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

USGS scientists are testing solar-powered GPS-GSM transmitters on seabirds to capture fine-scale movement patterns and better relate the influence of weather, resource availability, and hazardous conditions on seabirds. These transmitters are providing data on flight altitude of seabirds, information that is relevant to assessing the risk of collision or displacement to seabirds by potential offshore wind turbines. This information can be used to model habitat use, mortality risk, and the impact of weather on flight behavior for these species regarding multiple proposed offshore wind facilities along the Atlantic coast.

 

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Golden Eagle Migration and Habitat Use

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

USGS is collecting information related to habitat use, home range, and population dynamics of golden eagles in the Central Appalachians, northeastern California, and the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, using various methodologies including GPS-GSM communications telemetry, standard GIS analyses, nest visits, and non-invasive genetic monitoring. The data have been used to model movement and create risk models to assist resource management agencies in evaluating management options for this species. Results can inform resource managers about where and when eagles could be most at risk from disturbances associated with renewable energy structures. Data are being combined with datasets from similar projects to create a framework and baseline to build an effective long-term golden eagle monitoring program in support of adaptive management.

 

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Golden Eagle Monitoring Plan for the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan Area 

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

DRECP was developed to provide protection of Mojave and Colorado Desert ecosystems while allowing for the appropriate development of renewable energy projects. USGS and partners developed a research and monitoring plan for the DRECP that profiles the ecology and status of golden eagles and their habitats in the area, provides a range of potential sampling options to address monitoring needs, and characterizes an iterative approach to monitoring golden eagles focusing on links between changes in human land-use, nesting, and foraging habitat conditions and population dynamics. A new report outlines options for monitoring the status and population trends of golden eagles in southern California. The adaptive, multiscale scheme of the monitoring framework provides decision makers with a periodic, scientifically rigorous evaluation of the status of golden eagles in the DRECP area and can provide regulatory agencies with information to make conservation policy decisions regarding permitting and siting of renewable energy projects.

 

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Golden Eagle Movement and Conservation in Coastal Southern California

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

To evaluate the effects of human activities on golden eagles in coastal southern California, USGS began a multiyear golden eagle survey and tracking program in 2014, supported by the San Diego Association of Governments, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, USFWS, and BLM. More than 40 golden eagles were captured in San Diego County, Orange County, and western Riverside County, California, and fitted with GPS backpack transmitters, allowing scientists to track their movements. Movements ranged as far north as northern Nevada and southern Wyoming and as far south as the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico. Researchers also developed habitat selection models and provided predictions of population-level habitat selection for golden eagles in San Diego County. Modeled results indicate strong avoidance of urban areas, moderate avoidance of exurban areas, and avoidance of a buffer around these landscapes. In contrast, eagles preferred more rugged areas in higher elevation terrain. This work contributes to a broader understanding of the population status, demography, resource use, and genetic structure of golden eagles across a wide gradient of environmental conditions.

 

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Implications of Anthropogenic Activities on Greater Sage-Grouse Populations in Nevada 

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

USGS has initiated a study at nine sites across Nevada to answer questions related to short- and long-term effects on sage-grouse habitat selection, population vital rates, and movement patterns from disturbance caused by wind turbines, gold mining, geothermal energy production, hydraulic fracturing for oil, and transmission line development. This information can help managers develop guidelines that minimize the negative effects of these activities on greater sage-grouse and their associated habitat.

 

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Lesser Prairie-Chicken Population and Habitat Ecology

Cooperative Research Units: Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The lesser prairie-chicken currently occupies a range that includes parts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. This species has experienced population declines due to both direct and indirect habitat loss, including conversion of native rangeland to cropland and disturbance from energy development. USGS developed a population viability analysis, or PVA model, to predict future population status of the lesser prairie-chicken in four ecoregions across the species’ range. Studies by USGS and collaborators predict habitat suitability for lesser prairie-chicken leks by exploring lesser prairie-chicken occurrence in relation to landscape characteristics, drought, and anthropogenic effects, such as distance to active wells, roads, highways, transmission lines, and tall structures. Habitat suitability models, combined with other landscape information, form the basis of a habitat assessment tool that can be used to guide siting of development projects and targeting of areas for conservation.

 

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Linking Habitat and Prey Availability to Golden Eagle Ecology 

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

Researchers gathered and compiled data on golden eagle diets to summarize and compare prey diversity across the West and Desert Southwest and construct predictive models that link prey availability and abundance with eagle productivity and survival. Golden eagle diets differed among ecosystems: lower prey diversity was associated with desert and shrub-steppe and higher prey diversity was associated with mountain ranges and the Columbia Plateau. Detailed information about golden eagle prey can help prioritize prey management and develop conservation strategies.

 

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Main Hawaiian Islands Breeding Seabird Atlas 

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

MHI and associated offshore areas provide substantial breeding habitat for more than 19 seabird species. BOEM and the State of Hawai‘i have received proposals to develop offshore renewable energy-related projects within waters surrounding the main islands. These projects have the potential to negatively affect seabirds through interactions with wind-turbine structures, lighted facilities, elevated power lines on land, and lighted ships offshore. BOEM and other Federal, State, and local resource managers overseeing offshore renewable energy development within the waters surrounding the MHI require comprehensive, quantitative data of seabird colony locations, extents, and breeding population sizes to inform siting, conservation, and restoration actions for affected species. USGS and partners are working on a comprehensive atlas of MHI seabird colonies that can be used to generate predictions of at-sea distributions among seabirds on the basis of colony size and location, central-place foraging theory, and new empirical data from at-sea ranging studies throughout the MHI.

 

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Mid-Atlantic Coastal Bat and Acoustic Nano-Tag Study

Cooperative Research Unit: Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Scientists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, USGS, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University are studying migration timing and habitat use of eastern red bats in coastal areas of Virginia. With the move to develop coastal wind energy resources, there is a need to understand the potential for migration disruption and possible additive mortality of red bats and other migratory species. By understanding the timing of migration and offshore movements of these bats, it may be possible to design and implement wind energy mitigation measures, such as seasonal curtailment and (or) siting, to minimize interactions with bats. Eastern red bats along the coast of Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey are being captured and outfitted with very high-frequency nano-tags. Fixed sensor towers capable of tracking multiple bats simultaneously have been placed along the Virginia outer coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. Initial results regarding nano-tag retention time and bat migratory movements are being analyzed.

 

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Modeling Foraging Habitat Suitability of the Hawaiian Hoary Bat

Science Center: Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center

USGS and University of Hawai‘i at Hilo scientists are using thermal videography and echolocation sampling methods to more directly determine the occurrence and activity of the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat, a tree-roosting species. Previous approaches have relied solely on acoustic detection or bat capture, methods that have been inefficient for use in detecting sparsely distributed and vocally cryptic individuals at locations where encounter rates are low. Foraging habitat suitability is being related to bat occurrence, the frequency of feeding events, and insect abundance using multistate occupancy models, which can be more informative than simple models of presence and assumed absence. This approach may allow managers to evaluate the relative importance of different areas to foraging bats and track the effects of habitat restoration efforts over time.

 

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Missouri River Emergent Sandbar Habitat Classification

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

Emergent sandbars on the Missouri River are breeding habitat for the endangered interior population of least terns and the threatened northern Great Plains population of piping plovers. USACE operates several large dams on the river and manages water discharge from these dams for multiple purposes, including hydroelectric energy production and suitable habitat for threatened and endangered species. USGS scientists are using satellite imagery and remote-sensing methods to create maps for use in classifying and quantifying emergent sandbar habitat and study habitat dynamics in response to fluctuating water levels. These maps are used by USACE to monitor and manage bare and sparsely vegetated sandbars, critical breeding habitat for these two species. These maps have been incorporated into USACE management plans and are planned to be released annually to the public beginning in 2019. The methods used to create these maps and a database of potential habitats are planned for publication.

 

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Population Demography of Golden Eagles Near Altamont Pass, California

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Wind turbines at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California have been estimated to cause fatalities of as many as 28 to 68 golden eagles annually. This study investigates how estimated levels of turbine-related mortality and other environmental stressors may interact to affect the population demography of golden eagles in the broader landscapes surrounding the wind farm. USGS and partners are using historic and current eagle data to assess territory occupancy, abundance, breeding success, survival, and habitat use of different age classes of golden eagles. This information has been used to quantify how the local population of golden eagles may respond to observed levels of turbine-related fatalities. Additionally, results from this study are providing detailed information on specific sites or breeding areas that contribute most to overall population growth, which permits land managers to identify and prioritize important areas for conservation.

 

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Population Dynamics of Piping Plovers and Least Terns in Response to Missouri River
Management

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

USGS is leading a multiagency regional study to understand population dynamics of piping plovers and least terns on the Missouri River. These federally listed species nest on riverine sandbars and reservoir shorelines of the Missouri River, and the availability and quality of their habitat change in response to climate and water-management activities. USACE manages the Missouri River to benefit a wide variety of uses, including hydropower, recreation, water supply, navigation, flood control, and fish and wildlife. USACE is planning to create suitable piping plover and least tern breeding habitat along the Missouri River as part of the Missouri River Recovery Program. The USGS-led study is providing population demographic and dispersal information that can inform decisions about management, conservation, and recovery of these species and overall management of the Missouri River.

 

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Prairie Grouse Lek Dynamics in Landscapes Near Wind Energy Facilities in North Dakota and South Dakota 

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

The northern Great Plains has high potential for wind energy development, particularly along the Missouri Plateau in North and South Dakota. The area also provides important grassland breeding habitat for sharp-tailed grouse and greater prairie-chicken. Potential impacts of wind energy development on prairie grouse populations and trends at a landscape level have not been assessed in this region. From 2003 to 2014, USGS conducted spring lek counts of prairie grouse in study areas with and without wind turbines as part of a larger study to assess the impacts of wind energy development on grassland birds. These data, with data collected by North Dakota Game and Fish Department and South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department, are being used to assess the potential impacts of wind energy development on grouse lek counts and trends at a landscape level.

 

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Raptor Nest-Site Use in Relation to Proximity to Coalbed-Methane Development in Wyoming

Cooperative Research Unit:  Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

CBM extraction is a major land use in Wyoming, and resource managers are concerned that some raptor species may be vulnerable to habitat changes caused by CBM development given the ecological requirements and population trajectories of these birds. To determine whether the 805-meter buffer around development sites implemented by BLM is biologically meaningful in terms of raptor responses and sufficient as a protective measure, USGS scientists used data collected in the observation of nests of 12 raptor species across 9 years (2003–11) in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming, in relation to CBM development. Red-tailed hawks, burrowing owls, and long-eared owls used nests in undeveloped areas, specifically nests near CBM development, more than nests in developed areas. Although findings suggest potential avoidance of nesting in areas near CBM development by these species, other factors such as habitat preference, local prey availability, raptor density, and weather may also play a role.

 

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Review of Bird and Bat Risk From Wind Development

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Attempts to measure and mitigate the effects of wind turbines on wildlife have been an integral part of wind energy development. Collision mortality, displacement, and habitat loss can cause population level effects, especially for rare or endangered species. A team of international researchers, including those from USGS, reviewed studies from Spain, Norway, Canada, the United States, and southern Africa that document the impact of wind energy development on raptors. The researchers gave an overview of raptor species affected by wind farms, discussed monitoring and mitigation strategies, and addressed how studying raptor behavior can inform turbine siting to minimize collision risks. USGS scientists also summarized current pre-construction assessment risks to wildlife from wind turbines, described the number of species and individuals affected by blade-strikes, and discussed how and why pre-construction monitoring is conducted. Several shortcomings were noted in the methods used to assess the risk of fatality at turbines, including the lack of studies to offer evidence for a link between pre-construction surveys and post-construction fatalities.

 

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Satellite Tracking Offshore Habitat Use in Diving Bird Species 

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

In collaboration with BOEM, USFWS, and other partners, USGS scientists are using platform terminal transmitter satellite tracking tags to determine the occurrence and local movement patterns of red-throated loons, surf scoters, and northern gannets in U.S. waters of the mid-Atlantic region during migration and winter. From 2012 to 2016, scientists tracked the movements of 75 gannets and 66 loons, and from 2001 to 2016, scientists tracked 217 scoters on their northward migration to breeding colonies and on southward migration back to and through the mid-Atlantic region. Data can be used to inform siting, permitting, and regulation of future offshore wind development and can provide important information on key habitat use and migration of a suite of species with different ecological niches.

 

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Spatial and Foraging Ecology of Brown Pelicans in the South Atlantic Bight

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Brown pelicans are a species of concern in many States and can serve as an indicator species for marine, coastal, and estuarine ecosystem health because they interact with all three ecosystems and across a range of trophic systems. There is potential overlap between pelican use areas and proposed or existing BOEM activities around development of offshore wind, oil, or gas. Information about the fine-scale habitat use of brown pelicans in the marine environment is needed to determine the probability of pelican exposure to offshore energy development activities. USGS scientists are attaching GPS tags to pelicans in South Carolina, Georgia, and northeast Florida to assess foraging ranges, movement patterns, and migration paths. This research also complements pelican tracking efforts being conducted in the GOM.

 

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Spatial and Reproductive Ecology of Brown Pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

GOM contains a high density of oil infrastructure and a rich assemblage of seabirds, yet baseline data on at-sea distribution and habitat use of these species are poorly understood. The brown pelican is a focal species for studies about risk exposure in the marine environment because of its distribution, behavior, and known sensitivity to chemical and oil contaminants. To assist USFWS, BOEM, State agencies, and the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network in developing management plans and future research and monitoring efforts, USGS is studying colony-specific movement patterns, habitat use at sea, and reproduction for brown pelicans. Movement data collected using GPS satellite tags on 85 adult pelicans breeding in the region can help resource managers assess the spatial ecology of the brown pelican.

 

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Tools for Identifying and Prioritizing Areas Used by Migrating Whooping Cranes

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

Whooping cranes of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population migrate twice each year through the Great Plains between Canada and Texas. To assist with identifying migration areas across this endangered species’ migration range and help with recovery efforts of this population of whooping cranes, USGS and partners delineated a migration corridor that identifies areas used by most birds during their migrations. In partnership with USFWS, USGS scientists also created a tool that predicts wetland and other landscape features cranes would most likely use during future migrations. These tools offer USFWS and partners ways to identify landscapes that may be of conservation importance to migrating whooping cranes.

Birds, bats, and raptors collage

From left: Yawning bat in a group of Indiana bats (Credit: R. Andrew King, USFWS). American avocet and chicks (Credit: Barbara Wheeler, USFWS). Pair of Bald Eagles (Credit: Gary Woods, USACE). Little brown bat (Credit: Ann Froschauer, USFWS).

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Fish and Aquatic Species

 

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Dam Removal and Fish Passage Improvements on the Penobscot River

Cooperative Research Units: Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Restoration efforts on the Penobscot River, Maine, are among the largest recently completed in the United States and include the removal of the lower two dams and improvements to fish passage at several remaining barriers. USGS and partners assessed fish assemblages in the main-stem river and several major tributaries before (2010–12) and after (2014–16) dam removal to monitor changes in fish assemblage composition in reaches that had undergone both habitat and connectivity changes. Results of these studies demonstrate the potential for large dam removal projects to restore both fluvial and anadromous fish assemblages, while maintaining energy production.

 

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Deep-Sea Exploration to Advance Research on Coral/Canyon/Cold Seep Habitats

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

The OCS contains extensive and valuable commercial and recreational fisheries, as well as unique deep-sea communities, including corals and chemosynthetic seeps. BOEM, USGS, and NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research are partners on the DEEP SEARCH study, which is part of the NOPP. DEEP SEARCH aims to further the understanding of the distribution of sensitive deep-sea habitats in the U.S. Atlantic region. As part of DISCOVRE, USGS scientists worked with BOEM managers to develop a multidisciplinary research program that focuses on ecosystem-based studies in areas considered for oil and gas leasing and (or) renewable energy development. The information generated from this project can allow managers to design and support an adaptive, ecosystem-based approach to DOI’s stewardship responsibilities while allowing for development of offshore energy resources.

 

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Hydropower Effects on River Food Webs

Science Center: Southwest Biological Science Center

Aquatic insects are a cornerstone of river food webs. USGS scientists demonstrated that flow regimes on the Colorado River favoring hydroelectric-power generation can eliminate many aquatic insect species from downstream habitats. This research informed experimental flow releases from Glen Canyon Dam that are being conducted from May to August 2018. The experiment involves releasing stable and low flows every weekend, with hydropower-peaking flows occurring during weekdays. These “bug flows” are designed to minimally affect hydropower revenue while providing ideal egg laying conditions for aquatic insects on weekends.

 

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Maintenance of Instream Flows and Water Temperatures for Salmon Egg Incubation

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

USGS, in cooperation with AEA, measures and analyzes streamflow, water temperature, and intragravel water temperature downstream from the Bradley Lake dam. A minimum discharge of 1.13 cubic meters per second, or 40 cubic feet per second, in the lower river is required to protect salmon egg incubation habitat during the winter. This minimum flow requirement is based on an open-water instream flow study that did not consider the effects of ice formation, which is fatal to eggs. Data are being collected to determine if below-freezing temperatures occur at depths 25 to 30 centimeters, or 10 to 12 inches, below the streambed. These data can be used to determine if the minimum instream flow is sufficient to maintain above-freezing temperature in the streambed and allow for salmon egg incubation.

 

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Natural Salmon Recolonization Following Dam Removal

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in Washington State was breached in 2011 and removed completely in 2012, allowing anadromous salmonids access to habitat that had been blocked for nearly 100 years. A multiagency workgroup concluded that the preferred salmonid restoration alternative was natural recolonization with monitoring to assess efficacy, followed by a management evaluation 5 years after dam removal. In 2016, USGS scientists, in cooperation with the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, assessed juvenile salmonid diversity, distribution, and abundance. The 2016 effort provided the first post-dam smolt and juvenile abundance estimates for coho salmon and steelhead in the White Salmon River as well as the first documentation of coho salmon juvenile production in tributaries upstream from the former Condit Dam site. This monitoring effort can help to better understand abundance trends, distribution, and life history patterns of recolonizing salmonids and assess efficacy of natural recolonization to inform management decisions.

 

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Reintroduction of Anadromous Salmonids to Reservoirs Above Hydroelectric Dams

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

USGS scientists evaluated the feasibility of reintroducing native salmonids to hydropower reservoirs in
Washington State to determine if the reservoirs could support reintroduced populations of salmonids. These reservoirs serve both as functional migration corridors and profitable juvenilerearing
habitats despite hosting abundant predator populations. The scientists evaluated consumption demand and seasonal food availability as well as potential predation mortality to juvenile anadromous salmonids. This approach can assist fisheries managers and power operators by identifying options for design
and operations of hydropower facilities that could balance power demand with increased fish production.

 

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Using Genomics to Better Understand Habitat Use of the Atlantic Sturgeon

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

BOEM managers use information on the ecology of the federally protected Atlantic sturgeon in coastal waters to understand the potential impacts from offshore energy development and fulfill obligations required under Federal laws. USGS scientists are developing genomics tools aimed at providing a cost-effective, high-resolution way to characterize the sturgeon population structure and demographics. Scientists have assembled and annotated the complete mitochondrial genome of both the Atlantic and Gulf sturgeon, allowing for detection of Atlantic and Gulf sturgeon eDNA in water. These techniques can allow large numbers of sturgeon to be identified to their river and distinct population segment of origin, and facilitate accurate assessments of Atlantic sturgeon populations. These approaches are widely applicable to stock and impact assessments for a wide variety of imperiled or other species of management concern.

Fish, coral, and toad collage

From left: Salmon jumping up a fish ladder (Credit: Steve Martarano, USFWS). A comparison of normal coral with dead skeletal material covered by typical secondary colonization (right) and a wilting, dying coral covered with oil plume debris. (Credit: NOAA and BOEM). Brook trout (Credit: Jaime Masterson, USFWS). Western toad (Credit: Patrick Kleeman, USGS).

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Landscape Alteration

 

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Aeolian Dust Associated With Oil and Gas Infrastructure in Sagebrush Ecosystems

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

The rapid expansion of energy development on Federal lands in southwestern Wyoming began in the early 2000s. Partners with the WLCI expressed the need to better understand whether dust generated from energy development could be affecting wildlife and their habitats. USGS is conducting a long-term study of road dust and soil movement associated with a large energy development in south-central Wyoming. USGS scientists deployed dust samplers and collected vegetation samples to estimate dust flux and soil movement across a gradient of development to evaluate dust generation and distribution patterns. This study can be used by resource managers in Wyoming and elsewhere in the sagebrush steppe region to inform potential strategies to mitigate impacts attributed to dust.

 

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Geographic Context in Wind Energy Land Transformation

Science Center: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center

Land transformation, measured as hectares of surface disturbance per megawatt, associated with wind facilities shows wide variation in its reported values. USGS scientists digitized land transformation at 39 wind facilities by using high-resolution aerial imagery and investigated how turbine size, configuration, land cover, and topography affected the levels of total land transformation. The results indicate that the geographic context in which facilities are installed affects the levels of land transformation associated with wind energy. For example, flat topographies had the lowest land transformation, while facilities on mesas had the largest. This information can assist managers with decisions on how to create opportunities for wind energy production that minimize land-cover change through effective siting. Scientists are now investigating the role of geographic context on road networks and how this affects habitat fragmentation around new facilities.

 

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Informing Energy Development Siting Decisions With Vertebrate Biodiversity Measures

Science Center: Southwest Biological Science Center

USGS researchers developed vertebrate biodiversity metrics using existing data on suitable habitat for wildlife. The scientists used watershed-scale range models for vertebrate species developed through the USGS National Gap Analysis Program to illustrate how biodiversity metrics may be incorporated into renewable energy siting decisions. These metrics can inform siting guidance for energy development on public lands and help managers in identifying potential energy development conflicts with species of conservation concern.

 

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Quantifying the Potential Effects of Energy Development on Wildlife and Ecosystem Services

Science Center: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center

Energy resources are critical for a prosperous and secure Nation, and a clear understanding of the potential effects of energy resource development is necessary for efficient and minimally impactful energy extraction and production activities. USGS scientists are developing and applying probabilistic models to evaluate the potential effects of energy development on landscapes, wildlife, and ecosystem services, building from the geology-based USGS assessments of undiscovered petroleum resources. Ongoing projects are using the energySim model to understand potential surface disturbance changes in sediment erosion associated with energy development and the energy footprint model to evaluate the effects of sage-grouse core area policy on landscape patterns and wildlife habitat.

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Pollinators

 

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Designing Conservation Seeding Mixes

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

USGS scientists are working with the USDA to quantify the benefits of USDA conservation lands for supporting healthy pollinator populations in the northern Great Plains. One tool that can assist USDA managers is the USGS developed Pollinator Library. This library is a repository of insect visitation and environmental and land-use information that can assist land managers with conservation seeding mix designs for land enhancement programs. This tool may be useful for restoring habitat for pollinators in areas where marginally productive lands are retired from biofuel crop production.

 

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Evaluating Bioenergy Opportunities in the Southwest

Science Center: Southwest Biological Science Center

USGS is collaborating with the USDA Arid Land Agricultural Research Center and Ohio University regarding the potential for agave biofuel production to add to our national bioenergy portfolio in marginally productive lands. Agave may represent a highly efficient biofuel, even under nonirrigation conditions, but the ecosystem consequences of this development on drylands, including habitat and wildlife, remain unknown. The project aims to explore the potential benefits and drawbacks of biofuel production in the Southwest as an alternative energy source and strategy.

 

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Impact of Biofuel Crop Production on Pollinators in the Northern Great Plains

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

USGS, in cooperation with USDA, is quantifying how recent reductions in USDA conservation program enrollments affect pollinator habitat. Scientists are also developing a risk assessment model to identify what portions of the northern Great Plains have undergone the most substantial land-use changes due to biofuel crop development while also supporting the highest density of commercial beekeepers. This study addresses several of the key information needs to better understand, minimize, and recover from pollinator losses.