Population Effects

Science Center Objects

USGS science is helping to understand the potential population effects for a number of wildlife species. Scientists are also developing risk assessment tools to guide energy development to locations where it will have minimal impact on wildlife. 

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:

Energy and Wildlife program icons

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

Projects below also are grouped into the following categories:

Bat and Birds

Fish

Mammals 

Raptors

Tools

Line

Bats and Birds

Oil and gas extraction icon

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 yellowbilled 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.

 

Transmission line, wind power, and oil and gas extraction icons

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.

 

Geothermal, mining, wind power and oil and gas extraction icons

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.

 

Offshore wind and oil and gas extraction icons

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 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.

 

Offshore wind power icon

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.

 

hydropower icon

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.

 

Possible Displacement of Red-Throated Loons by Wind Energy Development

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Major spring and fall staging and stopover locations of red-throated loons, or red-throated divers, along the North American Atlantic Flyway include Nantucket Shoals, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Hudson Bay, and the lower Great Lakes. During the nonbreeding season, this species uses marine areas in the North Sea, Irish Sea, and Baltic Sea. These same areas are also bustling with various marine industry activities, including construction and operation of offshore wind farms, which can displace marine birds. The consequences of displacement for individuals and consequently on the population as a whole are unknown. A May 2017 workshop was held in Edinburgh, Scotland, where scientists developed concepts about how red-throated divers might be affected by displacement. A report was published on the main points of discussion and concepts developed during the workshop. This information can help inform project development decisions by stakeholders including BOEM and the wind energy industry.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Potential Impacts of Future Oil and Gas Development and Climate Change on Greater Sage-Grouse in Southwest Wyoming

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

Oil and gas development and climate change have the potential to affect sage-grouse, but little is known about the influences these changes may have on population trajectories. USGS scientists used spatially explicit and individual-based models to simulate sage-grouse responses to changing development infrastructure by using a range of expected development intensities and restrictions. Sage-grouse responses to climate-induced vegetation changes of future climate scenarios were also simulated to evaluate the influence of climate on sage-grouse abundance and distribution. Preliminary results underscore the need to spatially evaluate multiple causes of incremental change to plan landscapes that include human activities and wildlife.

 

Wind power icon

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.

 

Wind power icon

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.

 

Offshore wind power icon

Southern California Marine Bird and Mammal Surveys

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

The Southern California Bight and the Pacific OCS biome off the central coast of California support a diverse assemblage of marine birds and mammals. This area supports substantial global populations of several species, including black storm-petrel, brown pelican, Scripps’s murrelet, elegant tern, and approximately half of the world population of endemic ashy storm-petrels. USGS scientists are conducting aerial surveys and developing new techniques to provide updated status and distribution of seabirds and marine mammals in areas where renewable energy projects may be proposed and relate this updated information to past surveys.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Status of Seabirds and Forage Fish in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Seabird densities in lower Cook Inlet are among the highest in Alaska, and populations were decimated by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Large resident and migratory seabird populations are sustained by local stocks of key forage fish species. Monitoring of seabird populations and forage fish stocks in potential oil and gas lease areas is a BOEM priority, both to mitigate the impacts of development and to assess the impact of potential oil spills. In 2016, USGS initiated new studies to update knowledge gained from seabird and forage fish studies in lower Cook Inlet from 1995 to 2000, in advance of potential lease sales and associated activities in Cook Inlet during 2017 and beyond. These studies are also assessing change in seabird and fish populations following anomalous high temperatures in 2014–16.

 

Wind power icon

The North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)

Science Centers: Fort Collins Science Center and Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

USGS is the lead agency of a multiorganizational program called NABat, or the North American Bat Monitoring Program. NABat members work to better understand the ecological consequences of population decline and risks from continuing and emerging threats, such as white-nose syndrome and wind energy, on 46 species of bats common to Canada, the United States, and Mexico. NABat’s mission is to help resource managers and industry partners map bat distributions, better estimate extinction risk, and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation actions. The USGS has developed online data management and collaboration tools for bat monitoring, including services for archiving pre-construction acoustic recordings collected at wind energy facilities. Presently, NABat monitoring data have been collected in 39 States and 10 Canadian Provinces. NABat participants include State and Federal agencies, universities and NGOs, as well as private industry (for example, Duke Energy). Newly developed resources include a protocol for processing acoustic data collected to monitor the impacts of energy development on bats and advanced statistical modeling procedures to interpret acoustic monitoring data for bat population status and trends.

Bird collage

From left: Elegant tern chicks and parents (Credit: Brian Collins, USFWS). Piping plover (Credit: Gene Nieminen, USFWS). Brown pelican (Credit: Alan Cressler, USGS). Lesser prairie-chicken (Credit: Linda Rockwell, NRCS). 

Line

Fish

hydropower icon

Downstream Fish Passage and Survival Through Dams

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

Dams can negatively affect emigrating juvenile salmon populations because fish must pass through the impounded river created by the dam, negotiate a passage route at the dam, and emigrate through a riverine reach that has been affected by altered river discharge. USGS scientists in Washington State monitored the movements of radio-tagged juvenile salmonids released upstream from hydroelectric dams to study how fish move across reservoirs and passage structures to better understand how these structures and water discharge methods affect fish passage success and survival. Results from these studies can inform hydropower dam operators and resource managers on ways to improve route-specific salmon passage and survival.

 

hydropower icon

Estimating Fish Abundance Using eDNA

Science Centers: Western Fisheries Research CenterNew York Water Science Center

Environmental DNA (eDNA) quantitative analysis is being explored as a tool for monitoring the distribution
and abundance of species; however, questions remain whether species’ populations can be detected using this method. USGS scientists and partners evaluated different sampling methods and whether eDNA could be used to accurately predict the presence and abundance of several aquatic species, such as brook trout populations in remote streams in upstate New York and sockeye salmon in a small stream in Alaska. Study findings show that eDNA surveys can enable researchers to effectively characterize the presence as well as the abundance of certain species of fish in streams. The studies provide new insights into the use of  quantitative applications of eDNA in conservation and stream management.

 

hydropower icon

Full-Scale Development and Evaluations of Fish Passage Structures and Fish Behavior

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

Many migratory fish species have been in decline worldwide due in large part to dams and poorly designed fishways that prevent fish from reaching spawning and feeding grounds. USGS has a unique large-scale flume facility that allows for full-scale testing of upstream and downstream passage conditions with live test species. The S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center laboratory provides semicontrolled conditions that enable USGS, NMFS, DOE, and State scientists and engineers to improve and develop new fish passage designs and technologies and also identify behaviors and hydraulics that inform design criteria for successful fish passage. The goal of this work is to restore self-sustaining populations of migratory fish while maintaining a balance between energy production, water management, and ecosystem restoration.

 

hydropower icon

Understanding Downstream Fish Passage in the Willamette River Basin

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

Efforts are currently underway to improve fish passage conditions at dams in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, and enhance populations of anadromous fish species. USGS, in cooperation with USACE—who owns and operates the 13 Willamette Project dams—completed a synthesis of existing literature on downstream fish passage research in the Willamette River Basin. Threatened populations of Upper Willamette River Chinook salmon and steelhead reside within the boundaries of the Willamette Project and are a primary focus for regional resource managers. This synthesis can serve as an important reference for resource managers and others interested in downstream fish passage within the Willamette Project.

Steelhead trout

Steelhead trout. Credit: NMFS, NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center. (Public domain.)

Line

Mammals

Oil and gas extraction icon

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.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Quantifying the Response of Pacific Walrus to Ocean Noise in the Arctic

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Walruses spend the majority of their time in water, where their underwater acoustic environment enables them to communicate with one another using sound and thus respond to disturbance. USGS scientists are using telemetry data and remote sensing information of sea ice and other environmental variables to study the effects of ocean noise from vessel traffic and offshore industrial activities on Pacific walrus activity patterns. Models are being developed to link levels of activity patterns to walrus energy expenditures and their potential effect on walrus rates of reproduction and survival. The results of these studies can be used to quantify the potential population-level impacts to walruses from offshore oil and gas development and associated support vessels off the coast of arctic Alaska.

Line

Raptors

Wind power icon

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.

 

wind and solar icons

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.

 

wind and solar icons

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, Orange, and western Riverside Counties, 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.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

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.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl. (Credit: Ben Lawrence, Reclamation. Public domain.)

Line

Tools

Wind power icon

Evaluating Population-Level Impacts of Wind Energy Development 

Science Centers: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center and Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

The impact of wind energy generation on wildlife is commonly approached by monitoring the incidence of mortality resulting from turbine collisions. These mortality events may or may not scale up to observable impacts at a population level. USGS scientists are developing a framework for assessing population-level impacts of wind energy by using abundance time-series data and turbine location maps. The two-part approach first examines whether the timing and placement of turbines on the landscape are coincident with observed population trends at regional scales by using dynamic factor analysis. Next, localized impacts are examined by comparing population trends from sampling locations near wind turbine development with relatively distant locations by using Bayesian structural time-series models. This research can assist conservation managers with wind energy project permitting and the use and interpretation of monitoring protocols for wind facilities.

 

Transmission lines and wind power icons

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.

 

Tools to Assess Energy Development Impacts on Sensitive Birds and Bats

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

A combination of tools is being used to understand how mortality at renewable energy facilities affects populations of sensitive bird and bat species in California. As part of this project, stable isotopes are being used to estimate the geographic scope of the population of birds or bats affected, and demographic modeling is being used to forecast how individual fatalities affect the growth or decline of the species’ populations. Development of analytical methods can aid in determining the best practices for conducting risk assessments and predicting mitigation outcomes. Field survey design and protocols are also being developed and integrated with the developed tools. These tools can allow energy developers to more accurately estimate fatality rates and effects of mitigation techniques at wind and solar energy facilities, which may streamline permitting and ultimately reduce costs of energy development.

 

Wind power icon

Using Genetic Tools to Examine the Biology of Summer-Roosting Indiana Bats

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

Wide-ranging populations of Indiana bats have declined by approximately half since 1967, when the species was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Recent advances in genetic techniques have made it possible to uniquely identify animals using DNA in mark-recapture studies. USGS research has shown that DNA can be extracted from Indiana bat fecal pellets collected beneath roost trees. It is now possible to determine the relatedness of Indiana bat-colony members using genetic information and to estimate population sizes using DNA. Accurate demographic and relatedness information can assist conservation managers in management and recovery of the Indiana bat.