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Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative
Utah's Watershed Restoration Initiative
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SUPPORTING UTAH DIVISION OF WILDLIFE RESOURCES IN THE COLLECTION OF BOREAL TOAD (ANAXYRUS BOREAS BOREAS) DATA THROUGH COMMUNITY SCIENCE
Project Status: Completed
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Need for Project
The boreal toad, Anaxyrus boreas boreas, was once common across the Southern Rocky Mountains between elevations of 5,000 and 12,000 feet, but has experienced serious population declines during the past two decades. Primary species threats include: the spread of chytrid fungus, water mismanagement, infrastructure development paired with insufficient mitigation measures, increased livestock grazing pressure, increased recreation, timber harvest, urbanization, pollutants, energy development, population isolation and drought/climate change. For these reasons, the boreal toad is listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in Utah's 2015-2025 Wildlife Action Plan and is a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) sensitive species. The Eastern Population of boreal toads (Colorado, southeastern Idaho, northern New Mexico, most of Utah and Wyoming) species status assessment resulted in a decision not to list boreal toad under the Endangered Species Act in October 2017 in part due to the fact that some toad populations in Utah appear to be more resistant to chytrid fungus than other populations. Nonetheless, many threats remain, and the species status assessment cited uncertainty in how climate change may affect the future condition of the boreal toad The uncertain effects of climate change could include changes in water and overall habitat availability, earlier snowmelt, loss of breeding habitat, increased active season days, changes of late season freezing temperatures, and increased distribution of chytrid. The outcome of these potential effects on the species is uncertain as we have limited data on long-term or widespread effects on particular life stages or the broader distribution of boreal toads. It is therefore crucial to continue monitoring boreal toad populations and evaluating breeding success in Utah to ensure early detection of further declines from the effects of climate change or other habitat stressors, and to prevent a future need for listing, should they be petitioned again. UHZ and WUP have coordinated with the UDWR, UGS and USFS for the past seven years to leverage the power of community science based programs to coordinate the collection of field data on boreal toad populations and their habitat for multiple organizations through the development of a uniform field form and management of resulting data. Over the last five years this program has added, at least, an additional 6250 person hours to boreal toad monitoring and surveying. This added manpower in the field resulted in the additional detection of boreal toad breeding, confirmed toad sightings in two areas of Big Cottonwood Canyon, and the discovery of a new breeding site in the Uintas. This year, 2021, the biologist at UHZ will again apply for a Certificate of Registration allowing PIT tagging activities to take place without a UDWR representative present. This will further add to population estimates, movement data and growth data. Importantly, the statewide boreal toad conservation team and the partners putting forth this proposal are open to re-evaluating priority sites and modifying activities for monitoring boreal toad to be nimble and adaptive under the new Conservation Agreement and potential shifts in wildlife agency needs and objectives. This community science program allows DWR biologists to effectively use community scientists to collect data on a state sensitive species. We are at a stage where regional biologists trust this program to monitor populations and collect data independently and rigorously, opening up time for DWR biologists to focus efforts on other WAP species, with no detriment to the boreal toad.
Provide evidence about the nature of the problem and the need to address it. Identify the significance of the problem using a variety of data sources. For example, if a habitat restoration project is being proposed to benefit greater sage-grouse, describe the existing plant community characteristics that limit habitat value for greater sage-grouse and identify the changes needed for habitat improvement.
The objective of this project is to continue an existing community science program to support UDWR (in coordination with USFS and USFWS) to meet species monitoring needs regarding boreal toad distribution, population estimates, and aquatic habitat conditions across Utah. This project has four major tasks associated with it: Task 1: Recruit and train citizen scientists Recruitment of community scientists will be through various channels including but not limited to: current WUP and UHZ volunteers, previous years community scientists, Universities, and social media posts in relevant groups (for example Utah Frogs and Toads, Utah FrogWatch). A formal community scientist training event will be held virtually by WUP and UHZ on May 6th 2021 . Community scientists will be trained in the use of the standardized field methods and habitat assessment/survey forms (the same methods and forms currently used by UDWR biologists statewide), boreal toad identification and life history and disinfection methods. Task 2: Collect data throughout 2021/2022 We plan to continue surveying and monitoring efforts, including more community scientists and continuing to work closely with regional biologists. Through coordination with Drew Dittmer and regional biologists from the northern, central and southern and south eastern regions UHZ and WUP have established priority sites where community scientists will monitor, led by UHZ or WUP biologists, either independently or alongside UDWR staff, on both single and multi-day survey efforts. Additionally, independent aquatic habitat assessments and surveys will continue in areas where the distribution of current breeding habitats remains undocumented but where adjacent suitable habitat is supporting or has recently supported boreal toads. Data collected will include; water quality, habitat assessment, boreal toad presence including number, lifestage and PIT tag number. Biometrics will be taken of metamorphosed toads We have the capacity to prioritize large scale sweeps of chytrid testing throughout 2021 should the agency see a need. Task 3: Manage and present data The collection of habitat data (including parameters such as pH, turbidity, water levels, disturbance) using the standardized form will continue by partner biologists and community scientists. This data will be collated at the end of the season. UHZ will disseminate data to each regional biologist in a spreadsheet, for ease of reporting. Data will continue to be presented at boreal toad state meetings, such as number of community scientists, field hours contributed over the season, toad presence, lifestage, breeding, and habitat data and Arc GIS mapping efforts. Task 4: Coordinate interagency meetings and communications UHZ and WUP will coordinate with agency biologists and habitat managers to facilitate communication on recommendations on future collection of habitat data and long-term management of the associated data. The partners will also actively participate in meetings, present results, update partners on the ex-situ assurance population and assist in the development of the Conservation Agreement where needed. Along with facilitating meetings to help in the development of a plan for future statewide database management, we will analyze how we can best use community science methods to address future monitoring needs.
Provide an overall goal for the project and then provide clear, specific and measurable objectives (outcomes) to be accomplished by the proposed actions. If possible, tie to one or more of the public benefits UWRI is providing.
Project Location/Timing Justification (Why Here? Why Now?)
LOCATION: Justify the proposed location of this project over other areas, include publicly scrutinized planning/recovery documents that list this area as a priority, remote sensing modeling that show this area is a good candidate for restoration, wildlife migration information and other data that help justify this project's location.
TIMING: Justify why this project should be implemented at this time. For example, Is the project area at risk of crossing an ecological or other threshold wherein future restoration would become more difficult, cost prohibitive, or even impossible.
Relation to Management Plans
The most recent priorities listed in the Boreal Toad Statewide Monitoring and Conservation Summary 2019 have provided guidance and parameters for planning our 2021/2022 field work: 1. Develop a plan and evaluation of assurance colonies/repatriation efforts for Boreal Toad on the Paunsaugunt Plateau, and maintain the Wahweap Assurance Colony 2. Finish the evaluation of population viability criteria dataset 3. Coordinate with citizen science efforts to monitor and survey for toads in all regions 4. Develop Translocation and Repatriation protocols 5. Translocate Boreal Toads in the Little West Fork of the Duchesne to achieve a true "metapopulation" Our work also supports: Boreal Toad Conservation Plan (Hogrefe, 2005) objectives 1-6: 1. Defining current distribution and status 2. Monitoring distribution, population, and habitat trends 3. Identifying and reduce threats from habitat loss and degradation 4. Identifying and reduce treats from pathogens 5. Increasing understanding of boreal toad ecology, life history, and threats 6. Restoring populations in suitable historic and potential habitat The data collected through this program is also helping shape the new Boreal Toad Conservation Agreement (in progress).
List management plans where this project will address an objective or strategy in the plan. Describe how the project area overlaps the objective or strategy in the plan and the relevance of the project to the successful implementation of those plans. It is best to provide this information in a list format with the description immediately following the plan objective or strategy.
If applicable, detail how the proposed project will significantly reduce the risk of fuel loading and/or continuity of hazardous fuels including the use of fire-wise species in re-seeding operations. Describe the value of any features being protected by reducing the risk of fire. Values may include; communities at risk, permanent infrastructure, municipal watersheds, campgrounds, critical wildlife habitat, etc. Include the size of the area where fuels are being reduced and the distance from the feature(s) at risk.
Describe how the project has the potential to improve water quality and/or increase water quantity, both over the short and long term. Address run-off, erosion, soil infiltration, and flooding, if applicable.
No ground disturbing activities will take place in the implementation of this data gathering project. All community scientists will be traveling on foot and no motorized equipment will be used at any field sites. The biologist at the UHZ will have a renewed Certificate of Registration allowing her to pit tag boreal toads; no other participants in the community science program will be allowed to pit tag toads. AIS protocols adhered to.
Description of efforts, both completed and planned, to bring the proposed action into compliance with any and all cultural resource, NEPA, ESA, etc. requirements. If compliance is not required enter "not applicable" and explain why not it is not required.
In 2020, in response to COVID-19 safety requirements, WUP and UHZ pivoted very quickly in advance of the previously scheduled in-person training event to an online training, providing volunteers with the opportunity to safely participate in a live and/or recorded webinar. During the onset of the pandemic and in March and April the partners developed new training and instructional videos, online availability of printable field materials, waivers, additional live interactive webinar events, and safe equipment pick-up options. Due to the innovative and speedy adaptations made by WUP and UHZ communications and volunteer coordinator and ecologist, participation was maintained and even increased in some areas during this unprecedented time of community science during a pandemic. We hope to take what we have learned from this into the coming year. Task 1: Recruit and train community scientists Winter/Early Spring: Prepare training materials and recruit volunteers to attend a virtual community science training event and develop a site list based on previous seasons' data, as well as a coordinated site visit calendar for the field season with volunteers and agency biologists. Spring/ Early Summer : Implement community science training event and coordinate with volunteers on preferred site visits and dates as well as prepare aquatic habitat equipment to allow individuals doing independent aquatic habitat assessments and surveys to check out/in field equipment kits. Training agenda includes life history of boreal toads, an overview of their threats and decline, the work conducted by the DWR and the purpose of data collection. Training is then given on use of field equipment, amphibian ID, chytrid disinfection protocols, and filling out the data sheet correctly. We encourage community scientists to take part in biologist led surveys but there is opportunity to conduct independent surveys, for which we give extra training. Task 2: Collect data on boreal toads May-September 2021 Coordinate groups of volunteers participating in UHZ and WUP led site visits with UDWR, including multi-day large-scale survey efforts. Coordinate with community scientists checking in/out equipment independently and review completed data sheets for independent surveyors, Use the field protocol and form we developed alongside UDWR, USFS, and UGS; the standardized methods allowed community scientists and agencies alike to collect aquatic habitat condition data in a consistent fashion that has been streamlined for entry into a statewide database for several years. Task 3: Manage and present interagency data on boreal toads Presentation of previous year's data, both boreal toad occurrences and habitat condition metrics as well as community scientist participation, number of site visits, and number volunteer hours accrued. Disseminate results as needed. We will provide summary information at the Boreal Toad Conservation Team meeting in December as well as custom exports of the data to interested stakeholders. September-December: Data entry and analyses, presentation of data to statewide boreal toad conservation team, evaluation of the project success and/or any adjustments that need to be made in the next field season based on shifting survey needs or agency objectives. Interns will continue working on compiling statewide data over the last decade in a streamline format which can be used to map occurrence and change as well as run through data analysis platforms such as R studio to help answer biological questions. Winter/Early Spring: Prepare training material, recruit volunteers, and develop site priority list for following year, as needed. Task 4: Manage interagency meetings and communications We plan to facilitate meetings to evaluate priority sites, current habitat data collection protocol, and develop recommendations on future use of habitat protocol, as well as to develop a plan for long-term management of boreal toad data, including both habitat and species data. As partners we will participate in and contribute to other meetings as appropriate, including the Conservation Team meeting in December, assurance colony meetings, and planning meetings for the development of the update to the Conservation Agreement. Additionally we plan to coordinate with students to complete mapping and statistical efforts with a cleaned dataset over the last decade with labs at both U of U and USU, to help address more complex ecological questions.
Describe the actions, activities, tasks to be implemented as part of the proposed project; how these activities will be carried out, equipment to be used, when, and by whom.
No additional post-season field monitoring is required to determine the project success but both organizations and agency partners plan to continue conducting annual boreal toad surveys and water quality monitoring in order to maintain a robust set of data for understanding the distribution of this SGCN and USFS-sensitive species and the habitat conditions for aquatic breeding sites.
Describe plans to monitor for project success and achievement of stated objectives. Include details on type of monitoring (vegetation, wildlife, etc.), schedule, assignments and how the results of these monitoring efforts will be reported and/or uploaded to this project page. If needed, upload detailed plans in the "attachments" section.
2021 marks the eighth year of WUP and UHZ partnerships with UDWR (main contacts over the years have included: Chris Crockett; Sarah Seegert, Jake Mecham, Cody Edwards, Chante Lundskog, Daniel Keller, Drew Dittmer, Kevin Wheeler, Keith Lawrence, Jordan Holcomb), UGS (Diane Menuz), and U.S. Forest Service (Pam Manders, Justin Robinson, Jens Swensen and Mike Golden). Each year of the project WUP and UHZ have had two or more partner planning meetings/calls to discuss data gaps and survey needs and to develop or refine standardized field forms and protocols in advance of the formal community science training that occurs in late April/early May of each year.
List any and all partners (agencies, organizations, NGO's, private landowners) that support the proposal and/or have been contacted and included in the planning and design of the proposed project. Describe efforts to gather input and include these agencies, landowners, permitees, sportsman groups, researchers, etc. that may be interested/affected by the proposed project. Partners do not have to provide funding or in-kind services to a project to be listed.
This project will continue to be applicable to statewide planning efforts to prioritize aquatic habitat improvements/maintenance, future repatriation efforts to suitable/potentially suitable habitat based on condition assessments, and species distribution and habitat data collected through interagency collaboration. WUP and UHZ will continue to fill critical data gaps in our understanding of this SGCN and USFS sensitive species. In particular, data generated from this program have been fed into a statewide boreal toad UGS database that could be used in the future to develop more robust predictive models for boreal toad occupancy and habitat suitability in Utah. The proposed work will result in a long-term plan for efficiently, cost effectively and sustainably continuing to collect and manage boreal toad and associated habitat data across the state. We plan to continue to coordinate with UDWR at the beginning and end of each field season in order to adapt our efforts and strategies as needed and ensure we take the most appropriate methods and strategies to assist with filling critical data gaps and agency needs regarding boreal toad conservation efforts. This program has created a baseline example that can in the future be expanded to other species.
Detail future methods or techniques (including administrative actions) that will be implemented to help in accomplishing the stated objectives and to insure the long term success/stability of the proposed project. This may include: post-treatment grazing rest and/or management plans/changes, wildlife herd/species management plan changes, ranch plans, conservation easements or other permanent protection plans, resource management plans, forest plans, etc.
Sustainable Uses of Natural Resources
Potential for the proposed action to improve quality or quantity of sustainable uses such as grazing, timber harvest, biomass utilization, recreation, etc. Grazing improvements may include actions to improve forage availability and/or distribution of livestock.
Project Summary Report
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