Terrestrial Wildlife and Habitat Assessment on Bonneville Power Administration-Funded Wildlife Areas in Washington: Monitoring and Evaluation Activities
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Terrestrial Wildlife and Habitat Assessment on Bonneville Power Administration-Funded Wildlife Areas in Washington: Monitoring and Evaluation Activities

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Wildlife Research

Date Published: May 2009

Number of Pages: 164

Author(s): Michael A. Schroeder, Paul R. Ashley, and Matt Vander Haegen


The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife strives to manage its wildlife areas to protect and provide the habitat necessary to support healthy and diverse fish and wildlife populations, and provide compatible recreational opportunities. Effective management of fish and wildlife, and habitats upon which they depend, requires an adaptive approach. The Northwest Power Planning Council stated “management actions must be taken in an adaptive, experimental manner because ecosystems are inherently variable and highly complex. These include using experimental designs and techniques as part of management actions, and integrating monitoring and research with management actions to evaluate effects on the ecosystem.” Monitoring and evaluation are critical in this process because they provide the information necessary to evaluate management activities in the past and to improve management activities in the future.

Habitat protection and enhancement is the fundamental strategy used by the Bonneville Power Administration to compensate for habitat lost during the construction and operation of hydroelectric projects in the Columbia Basin. Habitat monitoring and evaluation procedures are used to make these determinations based on documented relationships between focal habitats and species. Focal habitats used for this habitat evaluation methodology include shrubsteppe (grassland ecosystem in which shrubs usually contribute to the overstory), interior riparian wetlands (diverse mixture of herbaceous vegetation, shrubs, and trees in close proximity to water), and Ponderosa pine (relatively open and dry forest type with a variable density of Ponderosa pine, but usually characterized by an understory of bunchgrasses, forbs, and shrubs). The rationale for concentrating on focal habitats is to draw attention to ecosystems most in need of conservation.

Focal species were selected with a rational similar to that used for focal habitats. Focal species reflect the features and conditions necessary in a functioning ecosystem. In some instances, extirpated or nearly extirpated species (e.g., pygmy rabbit, sharp-tailed grouse, greater sage-grouse) can be included as focal species, because their populations can potentially be re-established and/or enhanced they are indicative of desirable habitat conditions. In other instances, focal species can be selected, based on localized management priorities, or based on the assumption that they provide insights into the integrity of the larger ecological system to which they belong, hence serving as ‘umbrella’ or ‘indicator’ species. The distribution and abundance of these focal species must be regularly monitored and the data used in evaluations of: 1) the presumed relationship between the focal species and its primary habitat; 2) the usefulness of the species in reflecting the ‘health’ of the larger ecosystem; and 3) adaptive management strategies.

Focal mammal species considered in this report include elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, pygmy rabbit, beaver, and western gray squirrel. Monitoring of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep has followed WDFW regional big game survey protocols. These include annual population estimates, classification by sex and age composition, survival rates, and trend analyses. Aerial surveys and harvest data provide most of this information, but local pellet count transects have also been employed. Pygmy rabbit surveys adhere to protocols developed in conjunction with WDFW and the Pygmy Rabbit Recovery Team and include population estimates, identification of distribution, trend analyses, and habitat condition assessments. Beaver surveys have been coordinated with other WDFW regional aerial surveys to include population estimates, documentation of lodges, population distribution, and trend analyses. Western gray squirrel surveys follow standard procedures identified by the WDFW for specific wildlife areas where squirrel distribution is possible. Once squirrel presence is identified, nest tree surveys for western gray squirrels are conducted.

Focal bird species include great blue heron, mallard, sharp-tailed grouse, greater sage-grouse, flammulated owl, Lewis’ woodpecker, white-headed woodpecker, gray flycatcher, willow flycatcher, red-eyed vireo, pygmy nuthatch, sage thrasher, yellow warbler, yellow-breasted chat, grasshopper sparrow, Brewer’s sparrow, sage sparrow, and red-winged blackbird. Specific sampling techniques include annual nest colony surveys for herons, mid-winter and summer aerial surveys for mallards (and other migratory waterfowl), lek searches and pellet counts for sharp-tailed grouse and greater sagegrouse, call surveys for owls and woodpeckers, and breeding bird surveys, nest searches, and winter surveys for songbirds. Standard protocols are available for most species.

Monitoring and evaluation of wildlife areas occurs at different levels of intensity. At the simplest level, there are assessments of progress of individual operations and maintenance projects. Mitigation and enhancement projects are also being monitored with designated sampling procedures developed and approved by WDFW. Focal wildlife species and habitats are being monitored using sampling procedures from national, subbasin, and WDFW regional level surveys, with application to each wildlife area. Monitoring and evaluation are being conducted to assure that mitigation and enhancement activities and overall management of BPA-funded wildlife areas is contributing to the continued health of the local ecosystem and its associated wildlife and habitats.

The monitoring and evaluation strategy will be enhanced and expanded on the wildlife areas. The purpose of this strategy will be to collect data on habitats and species that permits: 1) temporal evaluations of habitat suitability and species abundance; 2) tests of assumptions of the umbrella species concept; 3) examination of specific relationships between focal species and habitats; 4) determination of the habitat enhancement credits due to the Bonneville Power Administration; 5) consideration of alternate methods for monitoring both habitat and wildlife; and 6) integration of monitoring and evaluation efforts across all BPA-funded wildlife areas.

This report outlines the background of major BPA-funded wildlife areas in Washington. These Wildlife Areas, and their associated units, include Asotin Creek, Desert, Sagebrush Flat, Scotch Creek, Shillapoo, Sunnyside, Swanson Lakes, and Wenas. The management of these wildlife areas is integrated with, and supported by, numerous subbasin plans, within the Columbia River Basin watershed. These subbasin plans, produced by the Northwestern Power Planning Council, include the Asotin, Crab Creek, Lower Columbia Tributaries, Okanogan, Upper Columbia, Upper Middle Mainstem, and Yakima. This final report outlines some of the information available on focal species and habitats, as well as some of the assumptions made concerning their usefulness in the overall monitoring and evaluation strategy. This report also describes some of the available results from past monitoring activities, as well as insights into a monitoring and evaluation strategy for the future.

Suggested Citation:
Schroeder, M. A., P. R. Ashley, and M. Vander Haegen. 2009. Terrestrial wildlife and habitat assessment on Bonneville Power Administration-funded Wildlife Areas in the State of Washington: Monitoring and evaluation activities of the past and recommendations for the future. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington.