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Region 4 Science Partner Program: Developing mesocarnivore models across multiple regions

August, 2016

RMRS scientists Kevin McKelvey and Jessie Golding are partnering with the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) and other National Forests to create a detailed model of rare mesocarnivores across multiple regions. Mesocarnivores are animals with diets consisting mainly of small prey supplemented by fruits or fungi. This project will primarily survey highly elusive species such as Canada lynx, fishers, and wolverines within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 



Monitoring needs to be comprehensive, targeted, relevant, and affordable. To date, monitoring for lynx, wolverine, and fisher has failed when judged by at least one of these criteria. As a result, past efforts have not proven sustainable. In response, project members developed a Goal Efficient Monitoring framework (GEM). This framework allows monitoring to be targeted to meet the needs of the moment, and allows the flexibility to change to answer future needs - scientists do not need to over-build today’s survey to ensure that it can answer tomorrow’s questions.


Among mesocarnivores to be surveyed during this project, lynx are the predominant species of concern. According to the Northern Rockies Lynx Management Direction, the BTNF is considered occupied lynx habitat, however, there has not been a confirmed sighting since 2010. If lynx are confirmed during the survey of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it would help the partners identify their habitats and assist in modeling other habitats. 

Scientist compares the size of mesocarnivore tracks to their hand size in the snow
Scientist compares the size of mesocarnivore tracks to their hand size in the snow
The goal is to develop and implement a monitoring plan for mid-sized carnivores, specifically Canada lynx, fisher, and wolverine that reliably answers critical questions that affect management. Based on extensive interviews with managers, project members determined that the important questions mostly concerned population status, rather than numbers. For these carnivores, critical questions included:

  • Is there any of this species in this forest?
  • Is there more than one of this species in the forest?
  • Is there a reproducing population of this species in the forest?

Project Benefits:

These rare carnivores are wide-ranging and difficult to monitor. The key in this monitoring effort is to pinpoint where these mesocarnivores are and utilize resources appropriately. The collaboration between the BTNF and RMRS has been beneficial on several levels. Much of the field work is being done by the local biologists, minimizing the need to hire special seasonal employees, which greatly decreases the expenses associated with this work. RMRS has been able to apply new thinking and the latest Bayesian statistical advances to develop a robust approach with known likelihoods for detecting the target species. During the 2017/2018 winter, detecting and tracking these states went underway on the BTNF and 3 forests in the Northern Region. These prototypes will be used to optimize sampling designs and plan to implement across Regions 1 and 4 during the 2018-2019 winter. 

Key Findings

Previous attempts to monitor these species have either failed to address relevant questions that pertain to management needs and/or to produce stable monitoring that continues over time. By working directly with the local biologists and by using new statistical methods to produce a more efficient study design, project members believe this monitoring effort has a much better chance of being maintained over time and of producing valuable results. This approach is unique in that the monitoring design is formally goal oriented, flexible, and sustainable. 


Related to its expansion to a broad-based multi-regional effort in 2019, project members will publish a mathematical explanation of GEM and use data from the prototype forests to publish a practical example of GEM in operation. They are currently working with a wide range of collaborators, but realize they will need to maximize collaboration to make this project feasible. They will, therefore, reach out to stakeholders who might be interested in implementation in their areas of interest.  

Rema Sadak - Forest Service - Region 4 - National Forest System
Randall Griebel - U.S. Forest Service Bridger-Teton National Forest