2014 Wildlife Crew, Hitch 1

Habitat Monitoring in Leadore

For the first Wildlife hitch, the crew consisted of Josephine Gingerich and Tyler Garrett.  This project is mostly active field biology on a range of species.  For our first hitch we headed to the town of Leadore, ID, population 105.  Originally a mining town (lead-ore), it is surrounded by vast sagebrush foothills, rife with wildflowers.  This is habitat for the Greater Sage-grouse, a bird species that is a candidate for Idaho’s endangered species list.  These birds have special locations where they meet to breed called lekking grounds.  A lek is a flat area where the male Sage-grouse give a performance for the females.  These areas are very sensitive and if disturbed, the Sage-grouse population can suffer greatly.  Disturbances can include cattle grazing, human development, or wildfires.  We monitored their habitat in order to determine its quality for Sage-grouse, which will help the Forest Service in Idaho determine whether to renew the cattle grazing permits in that area.  The information we gathered will also contribute to the broader study of the Sage-grouse as an endangered species candidate.  Similarly, for one day on the hitch we helped monitor habitat for Pygmy rabbits, another sensitive species that relies on the sagebrush foothills.

For two weeks we worked all around Leadore in Swan Basin, Rocky Canyon, and near Mill Creek.  At the sites for the Sage-grouse, we followed GPS waypoints to random locations selected by a computer in an area designated as suitable habitat.  Once we reached a point, we decided if the location was suitable for Sage-grouse.  If it was, we ran a series of analyses on the plant life in the area to judge the quality of habitat.  The Pygmy rabbit study was a small part of a larger twelve-year study looking at how the rabbits affect and are affected by their environment.  We set up rows of brightly colored boards in an area under different levels of sagebrush cover.  The researchers used an unmanned aerial vehicle to photograph the entire area to judge how much cover the rabbits lived in. 

We set up ten research lines (called transects) for the Sage-grouse and Pygmy rabbits studies in the first two weeks.  We also marked fourteen new GPS waypoints in the Sage-grouse study for future weeks.  We look forward to continuing this work on my next Wildlife hitch, as the research being done is very important to key sensitive species in Idaho.

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