New habitat connectivity model for jaguar released

New habitat connectivity model for jaguar released

The CSP team develops new maps of potential jaguar habitat connectivity that are suitable for transportation and conservation planning in the borderlands region.

A group of CSP scientists — Dave Theobald, Vincent Landau, Meredith McClure, and Brett Dickson — has crafted a habitat connectivity model for jaguars in a study area that focuses on northern Sonora and southern Arizona. This model builds on previous work by the Wildlife Conservation Society but expands the study area and uses data that is significantly higher in resolution. The map generated by this model indicates that a substantial amount of potentially suitable jaguar habitat likely extends north of Interstate 10 within Arizona and New Mexico. It also provides information about the potential pathways jaguars use to move across the Sonoran landscape.

To learn more, click here to download the report Potential jaguar habitat and structural connectivity in and surrounding the Northwestern Recovery Unit (9.4 MB PDF)

The model and maps of suitability and connectivity will be made publicly available from Databasin within a few weeks.

New CSP study identifies areas where urban development is most likely to affect puma habitat and movement in Arizona

New CSP study identifies areas where urban development is most likely to affect puma habitat and movement in Arizona

Our connectivity analysis found that the most vulnerable areas lie to the north and east of Phoenix and along interstate highways in the western portion of the state.

Meredith McClure (CSP), Brett Dickson (CSP), and Kerry Nicholson (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) recently published a study in Ecology and Evolution that examines the future of puma habitat and movement pathways in Arizona. Pumas are common in both northern Arizona, where they inhabit forests and other types of vegetation communities, and southern Arizona, where they tend to occupy more mountainous or rugged areas. Because pumas can move over long distances, their population connectivity is threatened by urbanized areas and roads, which form barriers to movement and migration.

With human populations expanding rapidly in Arizona, one of the fastest growing states in the U.S., creating structures for safe passage through or around human-modified landscapes is becoming increasingly important. A major goal of this study was to identify areas where such structures would be most beneficial.

The research team constructed several models for this analysis. GPS collar data had been collected from 28 pumas between August 2005 and March 2008 in the areas surrounding Payson, Prescott, and Tucson. This data was used to develop a habitat-quality model for puma movement. Circuit-theory models were then applied to estimate connectivity across the state and identify connectivity “pinch points” — or movement bottlenecks — where pumas are most likely to be impacted by future traffic and development. These pinch points present conservation opportunities for wildlife crossing structures or easements that could enhance connectivity and avert detrimental impacts.

Map of predicted habitat quality for puma movement across Arizona

Read “Modeling connectivity to identify current and future anthropogenic barriers to movement of large carnivores: A case study in the American Southwest” and view additional connectivity maps.

Study identifies a disconnect between science, policy, and implementation

Study identifies a disconnect between science, policy, and implementation — a recipe for missed freshwater conservation opportunities

Scientific methods for assessing ecological integrity have grown more sophisticated and reliable in recent decades; however, the integration of assessment results into management and conservation practices has not kept pace with these advances.

CSP’s Dave Theobald participated in a study, along with researchers from the University of Washington and Portland State University, that took a critical look at how assessments of ecological integrity are conducted — and whether they are indeed effective at meeting the goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA). Ecological integrity, a cornerstone of this landmark environmental legislation, was intended to guide the management and conservation of wetlands, lakes, streams, riparian areas, and watersheds. The term describes the ability of an ecosystem to support and maintain ecological processes and a diverse community of organisms.

The research team found that assessment methods have changed significantly over the past 40 years in response to technological advancements. Scientists now rely less on field sampling and more on GIS and remote-sensing methods that emphasize landscape-level metrics and stressors — an approach that may not be appropriate at all scales, for all conditions. While this trend has been immensely beneficial in many ways, it presents issues that may have consequences for the continuity and defensibility of results.

Perhaps more importantly, the research team also found little evidence that modern ecological integrity assessments are targeting the most pressing conservation issues based on freshwater policies, stakeholder involvement, emerging threats, and conservation opportunities. They also note a disparity between the need for assessments to guide management policies and their availability. In order to narrow the knowledge-to-action gap, the team recommends designing assessments around specific freshwater policies and regulations.

Proportion of survey respondents who replied “Often” or “Very Often” with
respect to their need for assessments designed around five common assessment goals
(black bars), contrasted with how often those goals were achieved or represented across
all assessments reviewed (green bars).

Read more in “Past, present, and future of ecological integrity assessment for fresh waters,” published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Bears Ears National Monument: An assessment of conservation values and potential threats

Bears Ears National Monument: An assessment of conservation values and potential threats

CSP finds that the newly protected Bears Ears National Monument (BENM) presents a significant opportunity to conserve key elements of ecological function across the western U.S.

On December 28, 2016, President Obama designated, by proclamation, 1.35 million acres in southeastern Utah as BENM. Although these lands, which surround Natural Bridges National Monument and border both Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation area, are now protected, they still face serious threats associated with political pressures to develop the region’s abundant oil, gas, and mineral resources, which include uranium, vanadium, and copper.

BENM is known for its spectacular landscapes and antiquities — ancient cliff dwellings, rock art and ceremonial sites. It is also home to at least 18 species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including the California condor, Mexican spotted owl, and greenback cutthroat trout.

A recent connectivity study conducted by Brett Dickson and others identified the BENM as one of three notable areas in the West with high ecological flow. Building on the results of this study, CSP’s Brett Dickson, Meredith McClure, and Christine Albano conducted an analysis of twelve landscape-level indicators of ecological connectivity and intactness, biodiversity, resilience to climate change, remoteness, and threats. This study was initiated by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a group we previously worked with on the groundbreaking Disappearing West project.

Our analysis demonstrated that the BENM far exceeds other similar-size Western landscapes in terms of three key attributes — ecological connectivity and intactness, remoteness, and diversity of rare species and ecosystems —highlighting the need for special management. In fact, when we compared BENM’s ecological significance to that of seven national parks — Arches, Canyonlands, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Yosemite — it rivaled or exceeded them for numerous parameters. Among the significant findings was the monument’s exceptionally low levels of light pollution, suggesting that it is one of the most remote landscapes in the western U.S.

Scores received by BENM (bars) and seven national parks (dots) for each of the 12 ecological indicators by comparing them to a random set of equivalently-sized areas located across the 11 western states. Potential scores range from 0-100 (100 being highest). A score of 93 for a given indicator indicates that the mean value of that indicator in BENM or a given park was greater than or equal to the mean value in 93% of equivalently-sized random samples.

Read “A strategic, practical solution to conserving biodiversity and habitat connectivity in our Disappearing West” to learn more about the importance of connecting protected areas.

Reference: Dickson, B.G., C.M Albano, B.H. McRae, J.J. Anderson, D.M. Theobald, L.J. Zachmann, T.D. Sisk, and M.P. Dombeck. 2016. Informing strategic efforts to expand and connect protected areas using a model of ecological flow, with application to the western US. Conservation Letters. DOI:10.1111/conl.12322

Post-treatment monitoring shows the success of fuels-reduction treatment in an Arizona forest

Post-treatment monitoring shows the success of fuels-reduction treatment in an Arizona forest

Wilburforce Fellow Miranda Gray makes a case for monitoring as a valuable tool for assessing the efficacy of forest treatments.

CSP’s Miranda Gray recently conducted an analysis to monitor the effects of forest treatments in the Upper Beaver Creek (UBC) watershed of northern Arizona, where a prescribed fire was implemented in 2015. The goal of this treatment was to reduce dense fuel accumulations and encourage the growth of grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers. Supported by the National Forest Foundation through the Northern Arizona Forest Fund, this study entailed analyzing high-resolution imagery to identify evidence of a restored landscape and provide a quantitative information about outcomes. Although monitoring is essential for understanding the results of forest treatments, it is often overlooked during project planning and budgeting. Remote-sensing approaches can be ideal for tracking conditions before and after prescribed fires.

Gray found that canopy cover — a key indicator of potential fire behavior — was reduced by 15% after the treatments. The results were applied to a fire model, which also identified a corresponding trend: a 27% reduction in potential fire intensity and a 10% reduction in the potential for active crown fire. In areas with the lowest initial canopy cover, the imagery showed that grasses and forbs likely benefited from a post-fire nutrient flush and reduced competition from large trees. Both of these outcomes — an increase in herbaceous fine fuels and a decrease in canopy cover — are expected to increase the potential for surface fires, an important characteristic of healthy forest dynamics.

To read Miranda’s recap of this work, visit her guest blog post on NFF’s web site.

New CSP study predicts areas that are at risk of wild pig invasion

New CSP study predicts areas that are at risk of wild pig invasion

CSP’s latest work on wild pigs, one of the most destructive invasive species in the world, identifies a need for aggressive management to prevent far-reaching impacts.

A group of researchers led by CSP’s Dr. Jesse Lewis recently published a study in Nature Scientific Reports on invasive wild pigs, also known as feral swine. The study, entitled “Biotic and abiotic factors predicting the global distribution and population density of an invasive large mammal,” represents a collaboration between CSP, Colorado State University, and the USDA Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health. The researchers analyzed data from five continents — North America, South America, Africa, Eurasia, and Australia — to map predicted pig population densities and found a great potential for them to expand their geographic ranges. By identifying the areas that are at risk of invasion, this work provides a basis for informing and prioritizing management actions.

Wild pigs have become an increasingly important research topic because they are highly destructive — and because their populations can expand rapidly under the right conditions. Each year, they cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage in the U.S. alone, impacting natural ecosystems, residential developments, agricultural fields, and rangelands. Their populations are expanding in response to various factors, including illegal translocations by people (for hunting) and human-induced land use changes.

The study also found that incorporating biotic factors such as predation and vegetation into species distribution models can improve their predictive ability. Biotic factors have traditionally been underrepresented in such models. According to Lewis, a combination of both biotic and abiotic factors — plant productivity, forage and water availability, cover, predation, and land use changes — had the greatest impact on wild pig distribution and densities.

To read the paper online, click here.

Bryan Wallace joins the CSP team

Bryan Wallace joins the CSP team

We are happy to announce that Bryan Wallace, PhD, has joined us and will be working out of our Fort Collins office.

Bryan is a wildlife ecologist who brings us skills in conservation biology, particularly protected-resources biology and conservation, as well as marine ecology, fisheries management, and ecophysiology. He earned his doctorate in 2005 at Drexel University and has held positions in academia, international NGOs, and the for-profit sector. Bryan has authored over 60 publications and served as a reviewer for 30 journals. Although his background spans many areas of conservation biology, much of his research has focused on marine megafauna — specifically, sea turtles, an iconic species that offers unique insights about the health and function of the world’s oceans.

In addition to his research, he has enjoyed participating in nontechnical, popular communications that provide an opportunity to amplify important messages about conservation to broader audiences — for example, the book, Sea Turtles of the Eastern Pacific: Advances in Research and Conservation, for which he served as an editor.

Throughout his career, Bryan has focused on developing conservation strategies for endangered species, assessing the impacts to resources under anthropogenic threats, and developing priorities for resource management with limited budgets.

We are excited to be working with him.

Miranda Gray awarded a Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science

Miranda Gray awarded a Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science

CSP is proud to announce that Miranda Gray, Lead Scientist, is one of 20 new Wilburforce Fellows for 2017.

The Wilburforce Fellowship in Conservation Science is a year-long program that gives participants tools to bridge the gap between science and policy, providing training in leadership and science communication. Now in its second year, the Fellowship encourages scientists to not only advance decision-relevant research but also to contribute to conservation solutions by engaging with local communities, policymakers, land managers, and those with diverse perspectives to help sustain wildlife and wildlands. Fellows are selected via a competitive process on the basis of their skills, experience, and passion for conservation in the West.

Miranda applies quantitative methods to ecological problems. One of her areas of expertise is modeling landscape connectivity for ecological processes, a skill she has used to pioneer new works in the realm of fire ecology. Miranda is hoping to build a broader constellation of relationships and develop conservation solutions through collaborative processes. She will join her cohorts in Tucson for a 6-day intensive training this April. During this training, the fellows will set goals for engagement on a conservation issue, start defining an action plan to achieve these goals, and learn a variety of communication and leadership skills, including storytelling, framing, and messaging.

New CSP study examines the impacts of OHV roads on the space use patterns of the kit fox

New CSP study examines the impacts of OHV roads on the space use patterns of the kit fox

An analysis by CSP finds a strong correlation between the density of off-highway vehicle (OHV) road networks and space use by Sonoran Desert kit fox during the winter months.

The kit fox, a species that inhabits low-elevation regions of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, was the subject of a collaboration between CSP and researchers from Arizona Game & Fish Department. Kit fox populations in this area have been declining in response to industrial, agricultural, and urban development. This study, published in The Journal of Wildlife Management, is the first to specifically investigate the relationship between OHV road networks and kit fox space use.

CSP’s Jesse Anderson and Brett Dickson used several types of information for this study — monitoring data collected for 22 foxes over a 3-year period, spatial (landscape) data, and aerial surveys of OHV use — to assess environmental variables such as road density, topographic features, and distance to water and development. The study area included two sites in central Arizona.

They found that only one variable — road density in winter — correlated strongly to negative space use impacts (that is, a decrease in the amount and/or quality of available kit fox habitat). This result is likely due to higher OHV use during the cooler winter months, when kit foxes engage in breeding, denning, and pupping activities.

The study results suggest that expanding OHV road networks will likely result in habitat loss for kit foxes. Managers will ultimately need to balance these types of recreational opportunities with the need to conserve habitat for species such as the kit fox.

An ecological case for designating the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument

An ecological case for designating the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument

Recent work by CSP finds that the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument (GGCNHM) — one of the last truly wild areas in the West — presents a unique opportunity for protecting ecological functions.

CSP has been engaged in various landscape-level analyses to identify areas of high ecological value in undeveloped lands throughout the western U.S. A recent connectivity study conducted by Brett Dickson and others[1] identified three notable areas in the West with high ecological flow. One of these areas is the proposed GGCNHM in northern Arizona. If designated, the monument would permanently protect 1.78 million acres of land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park that are currently threatened by increased development, logging, and a resurgence of uranium mining.

Earlier this year, CSP and the Center for American Progress (CAP) initiated a study to further assess the proposed GGCNHM’s ecological importance. CSP had previously collaborated with CAP on the groundbreaking Disappearing West project, which found that we are losing natural areas to human development at an alarmingly fast rate. CSP’s role in GGCNHM study entailed conducting a West-wide comparative analysis of various key indicators that included resilience to climate change, ecological connectivity and intactness, biodiversity, and remoteness. The analysis demonstrated that this area far exceeds other similar-size western landscapes in terms of ecological connectivity and intactness, geophysical uniqueness, and richness of rare and irreplaceable species. According to CAP, the study “makes an irrefutable scientific case for protecting this area.”

The proposed designation clearly presents a unique opportunity to conserve key elements of ecological function within the region. What may be less obvious is the opportunity this presents for the entire western U.S.; designating this monument would strategically strengthen our existing network of protected areas in the face of climate change. The GGCHNM’s value in sustaining large, contiguous landscapes that support high levels of regional biodiversity should not be underestimated.

Read “A strategic, practical solution to conserving biodiversity and habitat connectivity in our Disappearing West” to learn more about the importance of connecting protected areas.

Visit the CAP’s web site to learn more about the proposed GGCNHM designation.

[1] Dickson, B.G., C.M Albano, B.H. McRae, J.J. Anderson, D.M. Theobald, L.J. Zachmann, T.D. Sisk, & M.P. Dombeck. 2016. Informing strategic efforts to expand and connect protected areas using a model of ecological flow, with application to the western US. Conservation Letters. DOI:10.1111/conl.12322