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Sage Grouse Inquiry

WyoBio map driven inquiry project for students and teachers to delve into the program while going through the scientific process.

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Directions:

The purpose of this project is to provide users an opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge of Wyoming species and ecosystem relationships through using the WyoBio map application.

Use this site as a step by step inquiry project, to provoke critical thinking and questioning.  Resources are provided (as are some results) to enable users to delve as deeply as desired. Keep in mind that there is not a single right answer to questions about resource management, as individuals and organizations bring different perspectives to the solution of biodiversity problems.

Progress through the scientific process of inquiry and enjoy!  

Background Information:

In recent years the  Greater sage-grouse has caught the attention of ecologists, biologists and land managers due to their population decline, most significantly in Nevada, Idaho and Washington.  It is thought that this decline is due to habitat fragmentation, as a result of human development, energy development, fire cycles and invasive species, as well as land use practices, and has resulted in nomination to the Endangered Species list.

Currently (early 2015), their status is Proposed Threatened in Nevada and California and a Candidate in the rest of their locations (Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, Oregon and Canadian provinces).  

But why do they matter? Greater sage-grouse are considered an "umbrella" species, meaning that they are a great indicator of ecosystem health.  Imagine the rest of the system is taken under the wings of the  Greater sage-grouse, and when this species is healthy the rest of the system will be as well.  By preserving an intact ecosystem needed for the health and stability of the Greater sage-grouse other species will be able to thrive as well (Umbrella Species Project, n.d.). 

Greater sage-grouse are obligates to the sagebrush steppe ecosystem, meaning they are uniquely dependent on the many aspects of the ecosystem that can't be found in other places, such as food, coverage and predator/prey relations. Yet today these species are populating only 56% of their historical range (Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Review of Native Species that are Candidate for listing as Endangered or Threatened; Annual Notice of Findings on Resubmitted Petitions; Annual Description of Progress on Listing Actions, 2014).

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Scientific Process:

Question:

Do Wyoming core areas for Greater sage-grouse face the same potential habitat fragmentation as non-core habitat areas?

Hypothesis:                                                  

Null: The core areas of Greater sage-grouse in Wyoming are relatively free of development, when compared to areas outside of the core habitats.

Alternative: Greater sage-grouse core habitat areas are as fragmented as non-core areas in Wyoming.

Design and data collection:

Follow the link below to WyoBio's map page where you can use the different layers and search processes to see and interact with how core areas of Greater sage-grouse may be affected by energy development. Visually inspect relationships of the different energy developments within the state and potential impacts on the grouse.

How to find sage-grouse information on WyoBio:

1. Sage-grouse observations and range maps can be found by clicking on the magnifying glass, selecting Bird and Greater sage-grouse (use common name filter; greater sage-grouse will pop up as soon as you start typing).

2. Core habitat areas can be found by clicking on map layers icon, then selecting Big Game & Sage-grouse.

3. Many more map layers are available to overlay. You may be especially interested in Administrative Boundaries and Human Disturbance layers.

WyoBio Map

Analysis and Conclusions:

Follow the link for potential results.  Remember you may have come up with something else.  This is just one result from the findings used in this analysis.

Results

Discussion: 

Although we found that energy development indeed does prose a threat to Greater sage-grouse in Wyoming, we also know that there have been large steps to prevent fragmentation through conversations and initiatives with key players (conservation groups, federal and state land managers, energy developers and the public, see Sage-grouse Initiative in the resources section of this page). As you zoom in to the map, you will probably find places where energy development has been deliberately placed outside the core areas.

With that said, what other threats can be found to Greater sage-grouse in Wyoming?  And which of the energy developments potentially pose the greatest threat?

Extension:

Looking for more on Sage-grouse research?  Wanting to delve deeper? Go local.  Now that you know what is happening regionally and statewide continue your research at the local level.  Find a local Lek, talk to a local biologist, collect your own data and observations on sage-grouse and upload them to WyoBio for other people in the state to use!

References:

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Review of Native Species that are Candidate for listing as  Endangered or Threatened; Annual Notice of Findings on Resubmitted Petitions; Annual Description of Progress on  Listing Actions, 79 Fed. 234 (December 5, 2014) (to be codified 50 CFR pt. 17).

Umbrella Species Project. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2015, from        http://www.wyocoopunit.org/index.php/chalfoun-group/projects/umbrella/