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Short Eared Owl standing in the open
Thayne Aubrey
Baseline Wildlife Assessment of a Newly Constructed Landfill

I am conducting research on wildlife response to the construction of the new North Valley landfill in northern Utah. The data collected during my research will be used as the baseline information to determine what, if any, impact the landfill has had on local wildlife populations. The species chosen to be indicators of impact were all listed on the Utah Sensitive Species List. Along with the collection of pre-treatment data, I was able to improve monitoring protocols for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The objectives of the study were to:

  • Collect pre-treatment data of wildlife populations using a study and reference area:

    • Establish population index of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse using lek count information

    • Establish the abundance of grasshopper sparrows using distance sampling methods

    • Assess population trends of avian predators, including Short-eared Owls, using point counts

    • Assess mesocarnivore population trends using scent attracted track traps

    • Determine if the pavement of a road to the landfill location increased wildlife vehicle collisions

  • Develop a new monitoring protocol for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

  • Develop a probability map for Columbian sharp-tailed grouse lek locations in Northern Utah and Southeastern Idaho using Maximum Entropy Modeling.

A greater sage grouse with a GPS tracker on its back in the middle of a flock of sage grouse in the winter on snow
Scott Fox
Greater Sage-grouse Winter Geophagy Near Pinedale, WY

My research project is investigating winter soil consumption (geophagy) by greater sage-grouse in the Upper Green River Basin near Pinedale, Wyoming. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) biologists observed the phenomenon while checking fences for sage-grouse strikes in winter and decided to collaborate with USU to do research.Because sage-grouse eat only sagebrush in winter, I hypothesize they are eating soil to obtain nutrients lacking in their diet.
My research objectives are to:
1) Use winter grouse GPS location data to determine frequency of geophagy site use, and also apply this data to a resource selection analysis to locate previously unknown geophagy sites.
2) Analyze mineral profiles of soil, sagebrush leaves, and fecal pellets to expound potential nutrient deficiencies in the sage-grouse winter diet, which is 99% sagebrush. Soil will also be analyzed for pH, cation exchange capacity, salinity, sodium adsorption ratio, and texture to further explore soil characteristics.
3) Describe known geophagy sites near Pinedale to orient sage-grouse biologists in locating these important resources in other areas.

A greater sage grouse chick in the grass and forbs
Kade Lazenby
North Dakota Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus Urophasianus) Recovery Project: Using Translocation to Prevent State-Wide Extirpation and Develop Range wide Protocols

For my M.S. we explored translocation methodology in an adaptive management framework. We translocated sage-grouse for 2 years from Wyoming to North Dakota. We monitored the source population in addition to the translocated population throughout the breeding period.
In 2017, we translocated 20 female and 20 male sage-grouse. We also placed transmitters on an additional 20 females that we left in the source population. We created 3 treatment groups (i.e., Artificial insemination, Sham, and Control) and placed ~30% of the females in each group.
In 2018, we translocated 20 male and 10 female sage-grouse in the spring. We marked an additional 10 female sage-grouse with the intent of translocating them in the summer with their broods. We also maintained our resident 20 female sage-grouse that we monitored throughout the season.
We failed to see any difference in movement or reproduction in the artificial insemination treatment groups. We translocated 6 brood females with 26 chicks in 2018. We believe that brood translocations may be a good alternative to traditional translocation methods. We produced 3 resource selection models to inform future translocations.

Stephanie and another researcher holding a grouse that was just marked with a GPS tracker
Stephanie Landry-Giavotella
Dusky Grouse Ecology in the Great Basin Ranges of East-Central Nevada

We are researching dusky grouse survival,  reproduction, movement, habitat selection, and harvest in the isolated “sky island” ranges of the Great Basin. We are focusing our work in the Schell Creek and Egan Ranges of East-Central Nevada. We are also interested in the use of dogs for increasing success of finding dusky grouse throughout the breeding, brooding, and nesting seasons. In addition to this, we are mapping the thermal aspects of different habitat types and compositions throughout the Great Basin ranges, and identifying base cortisol levels for dusky grouse across their reproductive seasons.

A female greater sage grouse looking back while standing on the edge of sagebrush and grasses
Chuck Carpenter III
Dirty Birds: How Winter Geophagy Site Attendance Impacts the Reproductive Variables of Greater Sage-Grouse

My research project is a continuation of the geophagy research done by Scott Fox. The focus of my project is to determine if there is a correlation between winter geophagy site attendance and reproductive variances within the Greater sage-grouse population located in the greater Pinedale, WY area. My research area encompasses just over 1500 square miles. To collect nesting and brood data, we track and monitor female sage-grouse that we have equipped with GPS and VHF backpack units.
We currently have multiple hen sage-grouse that migrate over 70 miles between their winter home range and their nesting areas. Because of this extreme migration, we are also looking into the influence of geophagy site attendance on movement and the ability to migrate to preferable nesting and brooding habitat. This display of extreme migration may demonstrate an indirect advantage gained from geophagy. 

My research objectives are: 

  • Collect data on nest initiation, clutch sizes, hatch rates and chick survival until 50 days post-hatch. 

  • Use Scott's geophagy site data to develop a geophagy site attendance metric for each tagged hen. 

  • Collect female sage-grouse movement, including home range size, migration distances, migration rate, and migration timing.

  • Use winter geophagy site attendance data, along with collected reproduction data, to determine if there is a correlation between the two. If a positive correlation exists, we will continue to work with BLM to further locate and safeguard geophagy sites.

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