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South Park, WY, United States

Berger J.,University of Montana | Berger J.,Wildlife Conservation Society | Cain S.L.,Grand Teton National Park
Conservation Biology | Year: 2014

As the discipline of conservation biology evolves and practitioners grow increasingly concerned about how to put results into achievable conservation, it is still unclear the extent to which science drives conservation outcomes, especially across rural landscapes. We addressed this issue by examining the role of science in the protection of a biological corridor. Our focus is on a North American endemic mammal reliant on long distance migration as an adaptive strategy, the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) of the southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The role of science in realizing policy change, while critical as a first step, was surprisingly small relative to the role of other human dimensions. In a case study, we strategically addressed a variety of conservation needs beyond science, first by building a partnership between government and private interests and then by enhancing interest in migratory phenomena across a landscape with divergent political ideologies and economic bases. By developing awareness and even people's pride in the concept of corridor conservation, we achieved local, state, and federal acceptance for protection of a 70 km long, 2 km wide pathway for the longest terrestrial migrant in the contiguous United States. Key steps included conducting and publishing research that defined the migration corridor; fostering a variety of media coverage at local, regional, and national levels; conducting public outreach through stakeholder workshops, meetings, and presentations; and meeting with and gaining the support of elected officials. All these contributed to the eventual policy change that created the first federally protected migration corridor in the United States, which in turn stimulated additional conservation actions. On the basis of our experience, we believe conservation scientists can and should step beyond traditional research roles to assist with on-the-ground conservation by engaging in aspects of conservation that involve local communities and public policy. © 2014 Society for Conservation Biology. Source

News Article
Site: http://phys.org/biology-news/

The guidelines approved Thursday by the state Game and Fish Commission call on state wildlife officials to continue to identify routes traveled twice a year by thousands of elk, antelope and mule deer. Tracking technology has enabled scientists in Wyoming and elsewhere to map such routes with increasing precision—and even discover new ones. Biologists also will study how to counter threats to migrations, such as by replacing barbed-wire fences with a type that allows antelope to crawl under the bottom wire. Options could also include prohibiting oil and gas development in especially sensitive areas along migration corridors, a point of contention between environmentalists and the petroleum industry. "The science is clear that the best way to ensure long-term persistence of migration corridors is to prohibit development," said Julia Stuble with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. But the guidelines in no way would require Wyoming to prohibit oil and gas exploration, pointed out Esther Wagner, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. "They're just recommendations," Wagner said. "They're not regulations." The guidelines will come into play when petroleum developers seek to drill on federal land in Wyoming. State biologists will refer to their findings and the guidelines when they advise federal agencies on wildlife populations on federal land, which they do regularly. Wyoming officials often find themselves caught between encouraging fossil fuel development and protecting wildlife habitat. In this case, migrating ungulates—a class of hooved animals that includes moose and bison as well as elk, mule deer and antelope—are popular to hunt. "We're not going to shut the lights out. We're not going back into the stone age. And we're not going to let wildlife decline," Game and Fish Commissioner David Rael said. In western Wyoming, vast natural gas reserves underlie habitat for elk, antelope and mule deer that travel into the Yellowstone Ecosystem each summer. Scientists in the region recently documented the longest known mule deer migration. A group of mule deer travels between the Gros Ventre Range in summer to the Red Desert in winter, a distance of 150 miles each way. A group of antelope travels between Grand Teton National Park in summer and the Upper Green River Basin in winter, covering more than 100 miles each way. Of particular concern are areas called bottlenecks where surrounding mountains, lakes or human development have pinched migration corridors to a mile wide or less. Biologists also suggest paying close attention to areas along migration corridors where wildlife stop to rest and eat. Mule deer especially have suffered from the loss of habitat in Wyoming. Their numbers are down 40 percent over the past 20 years, according to the state Game and Fish Department. Wyoming, population 584,000, remains the nation's least-populated state. But road construction and home development also get in the way of migrating wildlife. The state in recent years has countered that by building overpasses and underpasses where migration routes cross highways. Herds of migrating antelope that used to congregate along roads in a frenzy can now continue on their way without too much fuss, commission President Charles Price said. "It's not a panicked crossing," Price said. "It's a rapid crossing. They don't like to stand up there." Explore further: Where the deer and the antelope cross

News Article
Site: http://www.sej.org/headlines/list

"A National Park Service decision that gave Wyoming officials control over wildlife management on private and state lands within Grand Teton National Park seems to have sidestepped historic negotiations that led to today's Grand Teton National Park, as well as longstanding court rulings that have upheld the Park Service's authority to manage all wildlife within a park, even on non-federal lands. Of course, what advice officials in the Park Service's Intermountain Regional office used to make that decision (attached below) in November 2014 is impossible at this point to know. Since the agency is being sued by the National Parks Conservation Association and Greater Yellowstone Coalition over the decision, agency personnel and the Interior Department's solicitor on this case have declined to discuss the matter with the Traveler. But there is ample evidence in court records going back decades that supports the authority of the Park Service to manage wildlife on all lands within a unit of the National Park System, regardless of ownership. Then, too, there was the clear guidance and intent of top Interior Department officials who, in 1949 and 1950, negotiated with Wyoming officials to reach a compromise that permitted the original footprint of Grand Teton to be enlarged through merger with the Jackson Hole National Monument and private lands acquired, and donated to the federal government, by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. How, or why, the Intermountain Region staff overlooked those rulings and the Interior Department's position in 1950 hopefully will come to light as the lawsuit progresses through the legal system."

News Article
Site: http://phys.org/biology-news/

The range for the mountain-dwelling herbivore is decreasing in southern Utah, northeastern California and in the Great Basin that covers most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Oregon, Idaho and California, the federal agency concluded after studying the cuddly looking critter from 2012-2015. This study's conclusion marks a more authoritative statement about the role of global warming on the animal compared to research released in 2003 that found climate change was at least partly contributing to the animal's decline. "The longer we go along, the evidence continues to suggest that climate is the single strongest factor," said Erik Beever, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and lead author. The pika's habitat on mountain slopes, known as talus, are hotter and drier in the summer and more harsh in the winter with less snowpack to serve as an insulator, Beever said. The study bolsters the case for wildlife advocacy groups pushing for years to have the animal added to the endangered species list amid concerns about global warming. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected a request in 2010, saying not all populations were declining. A new request was made this April by a high school student in New York state. A preliminary decision on that request is due out in early September, but the agency's staff won't take into account the new study because they are bound to only take into account information submitted with the petition, said Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Serena Baker. Noah Greenwald, the Center for Biological Diversity's endangered species director, said the new research confirms that climate change is putting the animal at real risk. He said it should help with future petitions to have the animal declared endangered—something he says is necessary to ensure future generations are treated to seeing the critters during mountain hikes. "It's gotta be one of the cutest animals in North America. It's like a cross between a bunny rabbit and prairie dog," Greenwald said. "Part of what makes our world interesting is the diversity of animals and plants that you can see when you go to different species." President Barack Obama mentioned the plight of the pika this summer when he spoke at Yosemite National Park about the damage climate change is inflicting on the nation's national parks. He said the pika was being forced further upslope at Yosemite to escape the heat. The study didn't quantify how many total American pika still exist, but honed in on several areas where the small animal has historically roamed eating grass, weeds and wildflowers. The animal is thriving in a few places, such as the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, but overall is suffering, Beever said. At Utah's Zion National Park, they're gone all together despite being seen as recently as 2011. In nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument, they're no longer in three-fourths of their historical habitat, Beever said. Pikas were only found in 11 of 29 sites where they once lived in northeastern California. In the Great Basin, which stretches from Utah's Wasatch Mountains in the east to the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains in the west, the population is down about 44 percent compared to historical records. "It's not that they've just moved, they are gone all together," Beever said. Explore further: Pikas in peril in the Rockies

The shrub willow plantation is part of a broader five-year program called NEWBio, which is aimed at investigating and promoting sustainable production of woody biomass and warmseason grasses for energy in the Northeast. Planted in 2012 on land formerly owned by the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, the biomass crop will regrow and will be harvested every three years from now on. NEWBio, a regional consortium of institutions lead by Penn State and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is one of seven regional projects across the United States. Other consortium partners are Cornell University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, West Virginia University, Delaware State University, Ohio State University, Rutgers University, USDA's Eastern Regional Research Center, and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory. Researchers involved in the project include plant scientists, agricultural and biological engineers, agricultural safety and health specialists, agronomists, agricultural and forest economists, rural sociologists, supply-chain and business-development experts, and extension educators. "The shrub willow stand at Rockview can continue producing biomass for more than 20 years, and we hope to use it both as a source of renewable energy and as a platform for sustainability research," said Armen Kemanian, associate professor of production systems and modeling in the Department of Plant Science, one of the lead researchers in the project. "This is an excellent site to investigate impacts on soil and water quality, biodiversity, avoided carbon dioxide emissions, and the potential for growing a regional bio-based economy," he said. "Students from our college visit the site and have a firsthand and close-up view of this new crop for the region." Why shrub willow? Because the woody perennial likes to be cut, explained Kemanian. He noted that visitors to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming may remember the "willow flats," grazed to a uniform height by moose and elk. "At the Rockview site we don't have moose, but we do take advantage of shrub willow's vigorous regrowth to harvest for multiple cycles," he said. "As perennial plants, they establish a root system that stabilizes the soil and stores substantial amounts of carbon that otherwise would be lost to the atmosphere." Perennial biomass crops shrub willow, switchgrass and miscanthus—all of which are being investigated at other experimental sites around the Northeast—also store and recycle nutrients, so they do not require much fertilizer and can improve water quality in streams, rivers and estuaries, such as the Chesapeake Bay. Increasing perennial vegetation is a critical component of Pennsylvania's water quality strategy, and these biomass crops allow vulnerable parts of the landscape to remain economically productive while protecting water quality. Shrub willow can produce the same amount of biomass as a corn crop with only a third of the nitrogen fertilizer, Kemanian pointed out. When the plants grow, they take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. After harvest, when the biomass is combusted either as wood chips or as a liquid biofuel, the carbon dioxide returns to the atmosphere to complete the cycle. Felipe Montes, a research associate in the Department of Plant Science, established an array of sensors to measure carbon dioxide and water vapor fluxes, which are giving a vivid picture of the growth potential in the region. Shrub willow is one the first plants to leaf out in early spring and dies back late in the fall, and this long growing season makes it extremely efficient in converting sunlight and nutrients to a bioenergy feedstock. "We estimate that we can harvest 20 to 30 units of energy per unit of fossil energy invested in producing the crop, leading to fuel with a very low carbon footprint," Montes said. "The fact that this biomass can be converted to liquid fuel is one of the main advantages of shrub willow and other biomass crops. Low carbon liquid fuels are especially important for long distance transportation, shipping and aviation, where electric vehicles are not practical." Biomass energy could provide the social, economic and ecological drivers for a sustainable rural renaissance in the Northeast, according to NEWBio project leader Tom Richard, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment. He believes perennial energy crops are particularly well suited for the region, where forests and pasture long have dominated the landscape. Rocky and sloped soils are more compatible with perennial crops, while perennial root systems better tolerate wet springs and occasional summer drought, Richard said. Northeast biomass production has high water-use efficiency (biomass produced per unit of water transpired by plants) owing to the region's moderate temperatures and relatively high humidity. These perennial crops also increase organic matter in the soil, and coupled with efficient refining and manufacturing processes can produce carbon-negative energy and materials. "Concerns about energy, environmental and human health, rural economic development, and the need to diversify agricultural products and markets have made the development of sustainably produced biomass feedstocks for biofuels, bioproducts and bioenergy a critical national priority," said Richard. "Perennial bioenergy systems, such as the shrub willow demonstrated at Penn State, appear to hold an important key to future economic development for our region. But to unlock that future, we need to learn how to economically handle the harvesting, transportation and storage of massive volumes, which constitutes 40 to 60 percent of the cost of biomass. This project is providing the knowledge and experience needed for a regional bioeconomy to achieve commercial success." Explore further: Bioenergy crops could store more carbon in soil

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