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Prioritizing habitats based on abundance and distribution of molting waterfowl in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area of the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska

May 5, 2020

The National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) encompasses more than 9.5 million hectares of federally managed land on the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska, where it supports a diversity of wildlife, including millions of migratory birds. Within the NPR-A, Teshekpuk Lake and the surrounding area provide important habitat for migratory birds, including large numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds that use the area for breeding and molting. This area has been designated by the Bureau of Land Management as the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (TLSA) and is estimated to host 22 percent of the entire Pacific black brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) population as it undergoes flightless wing molt. Additionally, numerous other waterfowl species use the area for breeding and molting, including greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons), snow geese (Chen caerulescens), Canada geese (Branta hutchinsii), and tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus). A data-derived procedure was developed to define important habitats based on recent distributions of molting birds. That procedure was used to identify areas that could be prioritized for exclusion from oil and gas development within a pre-defined “Goose Molting Area” in the TLSA. This analysis was requested by the Bureau of Land Management to provide information for the development of alternative scenarios for an updated NPR-A, Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement. Habitat selections were based on the population densities of Pacific black brant and Canada geese and pre-defined thresholds for the minimum fraction of the population contained within selected areas. Selections were based on long-term records of population density combined with global-positioning system data to reveal small-scale patterns of habitat use. The highest population density of the Pacific black brant was found along the Beaufort Sea coast on the eastern edge of the study area, whereas Canada geese were somewhat more widely distributed. Depending on the selection criteria and width of protective buffers placed around selected habitat units, 52–85 percent of the Goose Molting Area was identified as high-priority habitat. The effectiveness of this approach to habitat protection assumes that buffers around selected habitat units are wide enough to provide adequate protection from disturbance related to oil and gas development. This assumption remained a key source of uncertainty that could be addressed through additional study of disturbance effects on molting waterfowl.

Publication Year 2020
Title Prioritizing habitats based on abundance and distribution of molting waterfowl in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area of the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201034
Authors Paul L. Flint, Vijay Patil, Bradley Shults, Sarah J. Thompson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2020-1034
Index ID ofr20201034
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB