The Big Dry Arm Spring Storm in the Great Basin Red Cliffs Desert Tortoise Reserve March Morning on the Platte River After a Spring Storm in the Great Basin Hunting Upland Birds at Kingsbury Lake Waterfowl Production Area Sandhill Migration on the Platte River Badlands Sunrise The Green River at Ouray NWR North Park Lupines Moab Sunset
Science Program
Mountain-Prairie Region
Graphic button showing the 8 state mountain prairie region

About Us

  • Tiger salamanders sport an olive and black camouflage and live off of insects and worms. Photo Credit: Spencer Neuharth / USFWS
  • Northern Rockies Wolf Coordinator Mike Jimenez unloads four wolves from a helicopter. The wolves were loaded into the aircraft and flown a short distance to a location where a refuge field crew stood by with the collars and sampling equipment. Credit: Lori Iverson / USFWS
  • This lion is sedated while biologists take samples and collar it for a study on CMR NWR. Credit: USFWS
  • Saratoga Fish Hatchery biologist take samples of the toads natural habitat for analysis. Credit: USFWS
  • A wildlife biologist sets a reader over a prairie dog hole. If a black-footed ferret tagged with a microchip emerges from the hole, the reader will identify the individual. Credit: USFWS
  • National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center. Credit: Ryan Hagerty / USFWS

About the Science Program

Here in the Mountain-Prairie Region, we leverage the power of our landscape conservation cooperatives to apply strategic habitat conservation, in concert with our partners, through a transparent, peer-reviewed process that ensures the conservation we deliver represents the most-needed and most impactful investment of taxpayer dollars.

View the Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct

In order to meet 21st Century conservation challenges such as climate change, our business model strives to accomplish the right actions, in the right places, at the right times - all based on sound science. This landscape conservation framework has resulted in greater efficiencies amongst the conservation community and strengthened partnerships between the Service and other scientific and resource management organizations. It has also led to groundbreaking conservation successes, such as the preservation of millions of acres of intact habitats in areas including the Flint Hills of Kansas, the wetland complexes of the Dakotas, and the Rocky Mountain Front and Blackfoot River valley in Montana, while preserving the rich cultural and agricultural heritage of these landscapes.

2019 Research Projects

Range map for the white-tailed ptarmigan in the western US and Canada
White-tailed ptarmigan distribution in North America. Data courtesy of BirdLife International and Handbook of the Birds of the World (2018) Bird species distribution maps of the world. Version 2018.1. Available at White-tailed ptarmigan photo: C Aldridge / USGS. Map created by M McFadzen.

Are white-tailed ptarmigan adapting to changing climatic conditions?

The white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura) is a year-round resident in alpine habitats across the western United States. Its geographic range extends from northeastern New Mexico to Washington, across the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia and Alberta, to Alaska. As a warming climate may threaten this high-elevation species, understanding whether any adaptive genetic variation found in ptarmigan is linked to climatic conditions, is a key knowledge gap.

To fill this gap, US Geological Survey researchers are examining the genomic data of this species across its geographic range. They are looking for correlations between environmental data and adaptive genetic variation. Additionally, they will map the genes of interest on to chicken and sage-grouse genomes to determine if gene function is under natural selection in ptarmigan. Results from the study will help inform the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service in developing a species status assessment.

PI: Sara Oyler-McCance and Cameron Aldridge, US Geological Survey

USFWS funding: $10,000

Freshly hatched birds in a nest with a thermometer, rain cloud and insect icon
A Brewer’s sparrow nest with newly hatched nestlings. Icons on the right represent variables in the study that may affect nestling survival: temperature, precipitation, and ectoparasite loads. Photo: A Chalfoun/Wyoming Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit. Graphic created by M McFadzen.

How do weather variables and ectoparasite loads affect sagebrush songbird demography?

Weather conditions can influence nesting sagebrush songbirds via reduce food availability which may affect offspring growth and survival, or more directly by physiological stress. Resource managers, however, do not yet have the requisite information with which to assess how weather patterns such as high temperatures and moisture deficits will influence sagebrush songbird populations.

The Wyoming Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit is initiating a project that will provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the necessary information for local and landscape habitat prioritization efforts. Repurposing existing data representing thousands of sagebrush songbird nests from a long-term study site, researchers will determine how temperature, precipitation, and ectoparasite loads (blowfly larvae) affect nests during the incubation and nestling periods and fledging rates.

PI: Anna Chalfoun, Wyoming Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit

USFWS funding: $49,000

Trees left standing surrounding a river while more inland conifers are removed
Characterization of possible spatial habitat effects of conifer removal in sagebrush on songbird populations. Diagram created from T Martin’s sketch by M McFadzen.

How does conifer removal in mountain sagebrush landscapes effect songbirds?

Similar to sage grouse, songbirds that depend on sagebrush have shown reduced abundances when sagebrush is invaded by conifers. Extensive conifer removal treatments to improve sage grouse habitat may also benefit songbirds. Understanding how conifer removal affects sagebrush songbird abundance and reproductive output will help inform U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service management practices designed to enhance populations.

A study underway by the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit is examining how the extent and distance to which woody vegetation may impact songbird nest success in mountain sagebrush landscapes. Conifer removal near woody vegetation such as pure conifer stands and riparian stringers could create ecological traps that are population sinks. That is, songbird abundance may increase, but nest success may be lower due to nest predation. Low nest success would have negative implications for the broader sagebrush songbird population. In contrast, removal of conifers at some distance from woody habitats, may provide greater benefits to the songbird population.

PI: Thomas E Martin, Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit

USFWS funding: $49,000

A map showing the migration of species suring summer and winter seasons
Map of ungulate migration lines produced by the Migration Mapper. Developed by the Wyoming Migration Initiative, this free mapping application is designed for researchers, biologists, and managers, to analyze fine-scale GPS collar data collected from migratory ungulates.

Supporting state and federal wildlife agencies in enhancing big game migration corridors and winter ranges

Although state and federal wildlife managers generally understand the movement patterns of big game herds in much of the West, the specific routes followed have been not been delineated precisely enough to support conservation efforts for most herds. To fill these kind of knowledge gaps, the University of Wyoming, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working to effectively target the enhancement of big game migration corridors and winter ranges envisioned in Secretarial Order 3362.

Building upon this current collaborative work, this project provides additional support to wildlife agencies. Support efforts include:

Determining which herds across the West have sufficient data to precisely define movement corridors and winter ranges and facilitate that analysis.

Assisting biologists with the use of Migration Mapper software to develop Brownian Bridge movement models.

Evaluating the state of knowledge within state wildlife agencies about migratory big game herd movement corridors and winter ranges.

PI: Matthew Kauffmann, Wyoming Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit

USFWS funding: $104,000

Region 6 Science Partners

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: December 29, 2020
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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