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Victoria A. Saab

Research Wildlife Biologist

1648 South 7th Avenue, MSU Campus
Bozeman, MT 59717
Contact Victoria A. Saab

Current Research

1. Determine ecological consequences of fire and other landscape stressors for avian communities of dry coniferous forests of the Interior West. 2. Examine breeding ecology of the black-backed, Lewis's, and white-headed woodpeckers in burned and unburned forests of the Inland Pacific Northwest. 3. Developing habitat suitability models from both field-collected and remotely-sensed data to predict bird distributions under different climate and management scenarios. 4. Developing statistically valid, standardized methods for occupancy and effectiveness monitoring of woodpeckers in relation to habitat restoration and fire management activities. 5. Determine the effect of fuels reduction treatments on habitat suitability of selected woodpeckers. 6. Provide managers with tools and results to help understand and estimate occupancy of selected woodpeckers throughout the USFS Pacific Northwest Region. 7. Develop historic and future woodpecker nesting habitats under different management & climate scenarios. 8. Identify future needs of habitat suitability for nesting woodpeckers to help guide forest restoration activities.

Research Interests

My research focuses on understanding wildlife habitat relationships to provide guidance on management activities that promote wildlife population and habitat persistence. Next steps will focus on 1) validation and refinement of habitat suitability models for woodpeckers under current conditions, 2) development of habitat suitability models for historic and future climate and land management scenarios, and 3) developing training workshops to instruct managers and biologists on creating habitat suitability maps that will be used to guide forest restoration activities (i.e. determine most appropriate locations for treatments).

Past Research

Recent efforts to mitigate severe fire effects and restore ecological function in dry coniferous forests have taken on a new urgency due to observed and anticipated effects of climate change. Currently, fuel reduction treatments are the primary focus of dry coniferous forest restoration. This will necessitate land managers to consider the implications of forest management actions on a range of resources, including wildlife. Consequently, managers need reliable information about climate-fire-vegetation interactions to effectively achieve their goals of forest restoration, while maintaining wildlife habitat and other sensitive resources. Land managers face significant challenges implementing forest restoration activities while concurrently meeting the requirements of existing laws to maintain wildlife habitat. Therefore, tools to predict potential wildlife habitat in landscapes affected by restoration activities are needed to help managers with timely decisions regarding treatment options.

Why This Research is Important

1. Co-edited a volume Fire and Avian Ecology in North America used in environmental analyses to examine effects of different fire conditions on avian species and communities. 2. Development of standardized methods for monitoring populations and habitats of cavity-nesting birds that are widely used in western forests and facilitate comparisons across studies. 3. Development of spatially explicit habitat suitability maps used for targeting management activities related to postfire salvage logging and forest restoration; areas identified as lower habitat suitability are considered for management activities, whereas those with higher suitability are identified for deferred, different, or maintenance treatments.


  • Oklahoma State University, B.S., Wildlife Ecology, 1977
  • Montana State University, M.S., Fish and Wildlife Management, 1986
  • University of Colorado, Ph.D., Environmental, Population and Organismal Biology, 1996
  • Featured Publications


    McKelvey, Kevin S.; Block, William M.; Jain, Terrie B.; Luce, Charles H.; Page-Dumroese, Deborah S.; Richardson, Bryce A.; Saab, Victoria A.; Schoettle, Anna W.; Sieg, Carolyn H.; Williams, Daniel R., 2021. Adapting research, management, and governance to confront socioecological uncertainties in novel ecosystems
    Goeddel, Cindy; Saab, Victoria A.; Marks, Jeffrey S., 2021. Lewis's Woodpeckers (Melanerpes lewis) provision their young with nestling passerines
    Cross, Todd B.; Latif, Quresh; Dudley, Jonathan G.; Saab, Victoria A., 2021. Lewis’s woodpecker nesting habitat suitability: Predictive models for application within burned forests
    Latif, Quresh; Saab, Victoria A.; Dudley, Jonathan G.; Markus, Amy; Mellen-McLean, Kim, 2020. Development and evaluation of habitat suitability models for nesting white-headed woodpecker (Dryobates albolarvatus) in burned forest
    Latif, Quresh; Saab, Victoria A.; Haas, Jessica R.; Dudley, Jonathan G., 2019. FIRE-BIRD: A GIS-based toolset for applying habitat suitability models to inform land management planning
    Sanderlin, Jamie S.; Block, William M.; Strohmeyer, Brenda E.; Saab, Victoria A.; Ganey, Joseph L., 2019. Precision gain versus effort with joint models using detection/non‐detection and banding data
    Saab, Victoria A.; Latif, Quresh; Dresser, Matthew A.; Dudley, Jonathan G., 2019. Woodpecker nest survival, density, and a pine beetle outbreak
    Kelly, Julia J.; Latif, Quresh; Saab, Victoria A.; Veblen, Thomas T., 2018. Spruce beetle outbreaks guide American Three-toed Woodpecker Picoides dorsalis occupancy patterns in subalpine forests
    Latif, Quresh; Ellis, Martha; Saab, Victoria A.; Mellen-McLean, Kim, 2017. Simulations inform design of regional occupancy-based monitoring for a sparsely distributed, territorial species
    Latif, Quresh; Sanderlin, Jamie S.; Saab, Victoria A.; Block, William M.; Dudley, Jonathan G., 2016. Avian relationships with wildfire at two dry forest locations with different historical fire regimes
    Hutto, Richard L.; Keane II, Robert E.; Sherriff, Rosemary L.; Rota, Christopher T.; Eby, Lisa A.; Saab, Victoria A., 2016. Toward a more ecologically informed view of severe forest fires
    Latif, Quresh; Saab, Victoria A.; Hollenbeck, Jeff P.; Dudley, Jonathan G., 2016. Transferability of habitat suitability models for nesting woodpeckers associated with wildfire
    Latif, Quresh; Saab, Victoria A.; Mellen-Mclean, Kim; Dudley, Jonathan G., 2015. Evaluating habitat suitability models for nesting white-headed woodpeckers in unburned forest
    Saab, Victoria A.; Latif, Quresh; Rowland, Mary M.; Johnson, Tracey N.; Chalfoun, Anna D.; Buskirk, Steven W.; Heyward, Joslin E.; Dresser, Matthew A., 2014. Ecological consequences of mountain pine beetle outbreaks for wildlife in western North American forests
    Hahn, Beth; Saab, Victoria A.; Bentz, Barbara J.; Loehman, Rachel A.; Keane II, Robert E., 2014. Ecological consequences of the MPB epidemic for habitats and populations of wildlife [Chapter 5]
    Latif, Quresh; Saab, Victoria A.; Dudley, Jonathan G.; Hollenbeck, Jeff P., 2013. Ensemble modeling to predict habitat suitability for a large-scale disturbance specialist
    Tobalske, Bret W.; Vierling, Kerri T.; Saab, Victoria A., 2013. Lewis's Woodpecker: Melanerpes lewis
    Hollenbeck, Jeff P.; Bate, Lisa J.; Saab, Victoria A.; Lehmkuhl, John F., 2013. Snag distributions in relation to human access in ponderosa pine forests
    Bond, Monica L.; Siegel, Rodney B.; Hutto, Richard L.; Saab, Victoria A.; Shunk, Stephen A., 2012. A new forest fire paradigm: The need for high-severity fires
    Towler, Erin; Saab, Victoria A.; Sojda, Richard S.; Dickinson, Katherine; Bruyere, Cindy L.; Newlon, Karen R., 2012. A risk-based approach to evaluating wildlife demographics for management in a changing climate: A case study of the Lewis's Woodpecker
    Dudley, Jonathan G.; Saab, Victoria A.; Hollenbeck, Jeffrey P., 2012. Foraging-habitat selection of Black-backed Woodpeckers in forest burns of southwestern Idaho
    Block, William M.; Saab, Victoria A.; Ruggiero, Leonard, 2012. Putting science into action on Forest Service Lands [Chapter 5]
    Hollenbeck, Jeff P.; Saab, Victoria A.; Frenzel, Richard W., 2011. Habitat suitability and nest survival of white-headed woodpeckers in unburned forests of Oregon
    Saab, Victoria A.; Russell, Robin E.; Rotella, Jay; Dudley, Jonathan G., 2011. Modeling nest survival of cavity-nesting birds in relation to postfire salvage logging
    Buckland, Stephen T.; Russell, Robin E.; Dickson, Brett G.; Saab, Victoria A.; Gorman, Donal N.; Block, William M., 2009. Analysing designed experiments in distance sampling
    Russell, Robin E.; Saab, Victoria A.; Rotella, Jay J.; Dudley, Jonathan G., 2009. Detection probabilities of woodpecker nests in mixed conifer forests in Oregon
    Saab, Victoria A.; Russell, Robin E.; Dudley, Jonathan G., 2009. Nest-site selection by cavity-nesting birds in relation to postfire salvage logging
    Fowler, James F.; Sieg, Carolyn H.; Dickson, Brett G.; Saab, Victoria A., 2008. Exotic plant species diversity: Influence of roads and prescribed fire in Arizona ponderosa pine forests
    Hutto, Richard L.; Conway, Courtney J.; Saab, Victoria A.; Walters, Jeffrey R., 2008. What constitutes a natural fire regime? Insight from the ecology and distribution of coniferous forest birds in North America
    Russell, Robin E.; Saab, Victoria A.; Dudley, Jonathan G., 2007. Habitat suitability models for cavity-nesting birds in a postfire landscape
    Russell, Robin E.; Saab, Victoria A.; Dudley, Jonathan G.; Rotella, Jay J., 2006. Snag longevity in relation to wildfire and postfire salvage logging
    Tewksbury, Joshua J.; Garner, Lindy; Garner, Shannon H.; Lloyd, John D.; Saab, Victoria A.; Martin, Thomas E., 2006. Tests of landscape influence: nest predation and brood parasitism in fragmented ecosystems
    Rich, Terrell D.; Wisdom, Michael J.; Saab, Victoria A., 2005. Conservation of priority birds in sagebrush ecosystems
    Saab, Victoria A.; Powell, Hugh D. W., 2005. Fire and avian ecology in North America: Process influencing pattern
    Saab, Victoria A.; Kotliar, Natasha B.; Block, William M., 2005. Relationships of fire ecology and avian communities in North America
    Saab, Victoria A.; Powell, Hugh D. W.; Kotliar, Natasha B.; Newlon, Karen R., 2005. Variation in fire regimes of the Rocky Mountains: implications for avian communities and fire management
    Saab, Victoria A.; Dudley, Jonathan G.; Thompson, William L., 2004. Factors influencing occupancy of nest cavities in recently burned forests
    Abele, Stephen C.; Saab, Victoria A.; Garton, Edward O., 2004. Lewis's Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis): A technical conservation assessment
    Dudley, Jonathan G.; Saab, Victoria A., 2003. A field protocol to monitor cavity-nesting birds
    Saab, Victoria A.; Brannon, Ree; Dudley, Jonathan G.; Donohoo, Larry; Vanderzanden, Dave; Johnson, Vicky; Lachowski, Henry, 2002. Selection of fire-created snags at two spatial scales by cavity-nesting birds
    Shaw, Nancy L.; Saab, Victoria A.; Monsen, S. B.; Rich, T. D., 1999. Bromus tectorum expansion and biodiversity loss on the Snake River Plain, southern Idaho, USA
    Clary, Warren P.; Shaw, Nancy L.; Dudley, Jonathan G.; Saab, Victoria A.; Kinney, John W.; Smithman, Lynda C., 1996. Response of a depleted sagebrush steppe riparian system to grazing control and woody plantings
    Bock, Carl E.; Saab, Victoria A.; Rich, Terrell D.; Dobkin, David S., 1993. Effects of livestock grazing on neotropical migratory landbirds in western North America
    A closeup of the side of a tree with a white-headed woodpecker's head sticking out.
    Salvage logging in burned forests can negatively affect habitat for white-headed woodpeckers (Dryobates albolarvatus), a species of conservation concern. To quantify and map suitable woodpecker habitat after wildfires, we developed habitat suitability index (HSI) models to inform forest management activities.
    Photograph from on top of a hill looking down on a landscape of dead and dying trees. Green vegetation in the foreground, blue skies with big white clouds in the background.
    To conserve and promote biological diversity, land managers must identify suitable habitat for species of conservation concern. Managers can then restrict potentially detrimental activities (e.g., salvage logging) to areas of lower habitat suitability, and target beneficial activities (e.g., restoration) where habitat suitability is higher. We developed FIRE-BIRD, an ArcGIS tool, to map habitat suitability for disturbance-associated woodpeckers of conservation concern to inform postfire management and restoration treatments in dry mixed-conifer forests. 
    A photograph of downed trees with mullein in the foreground, green coniferous trees behind the mullein, and mountains with snow in the background.
    Model development combining multiple data sources to leverage data source strengths and for improved parameter precision has increased, but with limited discussion on precision gain versus effort. Some data sources take more effort than others, thus knowing how much improvement is gained with these monitoring metrics is important for allocating samples on the landscape. Our framework allows research and monitoring programs to evaluate optimal use of limited funds when multiple data sources are available within the study design phase to meet study objectives.
    BBN_emblem.jpg – Birds and Burns Network emblem
    Researchers studied avian relationships with wildfire to evaluate forest fire and fuels management strategies. Specifically, they document regional differences associated with historical fire regime with implications for broadly implemented strategies aimed at reducing severe wildfire risk. The results suggest that avian-fire relationships differ regionally, and therefore the best management practices for conserving or restoring avian diversity likely differ with historical fire regime.
    Photo: LEWIS WOOD BERRIESem.jpg; caption – Lewis’s Woodpecker most frequently nests in relatively open, recently burned forests with large diameter snags.
    Increases in forest fires are expected with future changes in climate, allowing more opportunities for post-fire salvage logging. Forest managers are challenged with implementing post-fire management policies while concurrently meeting the requirements of existing laws and planning documents to maintain habitat for wildlife species associated with snags. Design criteria for post-fire salvage logging is needed to concurrently manage for economic benefits and wildlife habitat.
    Habitat suitability models provide critical information needed for forest management plans to accommodate biodiversity conservation. We are developing GIS-based application tools for forest managers that requires minimal technical expertise to create habitat maps.
    The Rocky Mountain Research Station is leading the effort to examine fire effects on populations and habitats of wildlife in dry mixed conifer forests in eight states across the western United States, including locations on National Forests, National Parks, and state and private lands. The goal of the Birds and Burns Network is to understand the ecological consequences of wildland fire, bark beetle disturbance, and forest management for wildlife in dry mixed conifer forests.
    Land managers require high-quality information on species and habitats at risk to develop effective management strategies. In the absence of information on these species and their habitats, agencies frequently err on the side of the species and make conservative, and often unnecessary, decisions relative to habitat protection. Over 20 years of research by scientists with the Rocky Mountain Research Station are helping address these information needs.
    Synergistic interactions of climate change, mountain pine beetle infestations, and wildfire are likely to catalyze landscape-scale changes in vegetation distributions, successional stage, forest structure, and wildlife habitat suitability. Our research will provide forest managers with information they need to project changes to habitat suitability for wildlife under a range of alternative climate and management scenarios.
    We are integrating multiple datasets, statistical modeling tools, and simulation approaches to quantify habitat and predict population responses by woodpecker and other wildlife species of conservation concern to natural disturbance (wildfire, bark beetle outbreaks) and forest management activities to inform adaptive management of dry conifer forests.
    Innovative quantitative approaches have been developed for evaluating wildfire and prescribed fire effects on wildlife communities in several western North American national forests.