• Greater Sage-Grouse and Severe Winter Conditions: Identifying Habitat for Conservation

      Dzialak, Matthew R.; Webb, Stephen L.; Harju, Seth M.; Olson, Chad V.; Winstead, Jeffrey B.; Hayden-Wing, Larry D. (Society for Range Management, 2013-01-01)
      Developing sustainable rangeland management strategies requires solution-driven research that addresses ecological issues within the context of regionally important socioeconomic concerns. A key sustainability issue in many regions of the world is conserving habitat that buffers animal populations from climatic variability, including seasonal deviation from long-term precipitation or temperature averages, and that can establish an ecological bottleneck by which the landscape-level availability of critical resources becomes limited. We integrated methods to collect landscape-level animal occurrence data during severe winter conditions with estimation and validation of a resource selection function, with the larger goal of developing spatially explicit guidance for rangeland habitat conservation. The investigation involved greater sage-grouse (Centrocercusurophasianus) that occupy a landscape that is undergoing human modification for development of energy resources. We refined spatial predictions by exploring how reductions in the availability of sagebrush (as a consequence of increasing snow depth) may affect patterns of predicted occurrence. Occurrence of sage-grouse reflected landscape-level selection for big sagebrush, taller shrubs, and favorable thermal conditions and avoidance of bare ground and anthropogenic features. Refinement of spatial predictions showed that important severe winter habitat was distributed patchily and was constrained in spatial extent (7-18% of the landscape). The mapping tools we developed offer spatially explicit guidance for planning human activity in ways that are compatible with sustaining habitat that functions disproportionately in population persistence relative to its spatial extent or frequency of use. Increasingly, place-based, quantitative investigations that aim to develop solutions to landscape sustainability issues will be needed to keep pace with human-modification of rangeland and uncertainty associated with global climate change and its effects on animal populations.
    • Winter Resource Selection by Mule Deer on the Wyoming-Colorado Border Prior to Wind Energy Development

      Webb, Stephen L.; Dzialak, Matthew R.; Kosciuch, Karl L.; Winstead, Jeffrey B. (Society for Range Management, 2013-07-01)
      Areas identified as winter range are important seasonal habitats for mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) because they can moderate overwinter mortality by providing thermal cover and forage. Therefore, identifying seasonally important resources is a conservation priority, especially when sensitive areas are proposed for development. We used data collected from global positioning system (GPS) collars fitted on female mule deer (n=19; one location every 3 h) to identify resources important during winter (23 February 2011-30 April 2011; 1 November 2011-15 January 2012) in a region spanning southern Wyoming and northern Colorado that has been proposed for wind energy development. The study period included portions of two consecutive winters but were pooled for analysis. We used methods to account for GPS biases, fractal analyses to determine perceived spatial scale, and discrete choice models and conditional logistic regression to assess resource selection prior to development (i.e., baseline data). Resource selection by female mule deer revealed similar patterns between active (0600-1800 hours) and nonactive (2100-0300 hours) periods. Deer selected most strongly for proximity to rock outcrops and shrubland and average values of slope. Deer tended to avoid roads and grasslands; all other landscape features had minimal influence on resource selection (hazard ratios near, or overlapping, 1). Using the fixed-effects coefficient estimates, we developed two spatially explicit maps that depicted probability of mule deer occurrence across the landscape. Based on an independent validation sample, each map (active and nonactive) validated well with a greater percentage of locations occurring in the two highest probability of use bins. These maps offer guidance to managing mule deer populations, conserving important seasonal habitats, and mitigating development (e.g., wind energy) in areas identified as important to mule deer.