Duckin' Around with Wetland Restoration

As a bopping tune blared me into consciousness this morning, I absently gimped across a swath of fading beige carpet. This ruggery coats the floor of a room I now rent from the loveliest of professional women, and upon reaching across the 5’ expanse from my (also rented) twin-sized bed, I managed to smash my fingers in the correct order to silence my phone alarm. However, before this rousing entry into the world of productive humans (if that’s what you call waking up at 5am to hit the Y before the office work begins), these sore eyes stirred to find my right-hand digits fixed into a familiar and inspiring position. Assuming the poised pen-holding alignment of an author, a phantom pen hovered delicately betwixt my forefinger and thumb on a hand that only just began to receive signals from my waking brain. It would seem the Body knows best, in the case of honing one’s creative outlet. I knew then with startling clarity that my substantial bout of the dreaded writer’s block was nearing its end.

Then I stalled for three and a half weeks and slapped this together from my recent professional exposures.

This excitement (can I get an amen?) plopped you and I exactly where we are in the Here and Now, where I dispense the following window into this Rock Rat’s shiny new day job! Right now, my actual position description is not important, as the project descriptions below have been altered to prevent the flagrant disruption of my stately biologist peers.

These modified meeting minutes will transport you to the second floor of a wildlife management office building, wherein there is a collection of conservation specialists discussing a long-term wetland restoration project for an expansive section of habitat.

This work is important and widely applicable to like…. well, migratory bird conservation on many levels but also The Water Crisis. ‘Nough said, amirite? So get to skimming, and Let’s Talk afterward about your impressions and effectuated zeal for avian habitat restoration.

With love and nothing else,

Rock Rat

Waterfowl Meeting

4 November 2011


Started off a bit late, waiting for Roger Waltman.

Thanked everyone for showing up, passed out packets, expressed presentation intended for February meeting, asked for their input, this is my understanding of where the project is now, mostly including maps of routes and rudimentary representations of survey efforts and comparative counts right now.

Asked about starting with round-robining before going through the packet (since some are short on time and they can take the packet with them).

Dan Stevens has nothing to report, but would like to circle back to discuss scheduling for next year, and also our level of satisfaction in classifying wetlands.

Leo Rangold has some things to discuss about his talk with Stacy McAlvian, she’s looking at mapping wetlands using depressional data (especially useful in some Google Maps tools and LiDAR data, if we have that available). Stacy can identify congregations of waterfowl in sheetwater and flooded ag, PAPI imagery analysis could be potentially used to replace LiDAR, Stacy has mapped the entire Highland Plateau, but not the Dowley Flats. Challenges with LiDAR are the volume of data and the computer processing required to conduct these kinds of datasets.

The general opinion seems to be that the Federal Wetland (FW) maps some areas rather well, but the issues come into play with the agricultural lands and how to accurately identify the sheetwater and shallow flooded ag lands that are so valuable to the birds. Stacy will likely not attend the January meeting, if we are sticking to this kind of review, and will likely attend only if we begin to embark on some of these analyses. Stacy is incredibly busy with her post-doc, working different jobs, tribes work, and work in the Seven Lakes area, she also has a new program and new skills that allow her to process data in a matter of hours that previously took her days or weeks to go through. They are still planning to work her into the Wetland Migratory Bird (WMB) budget to pay her for services, this may require setting a specific amount of money aside and petitioning her for services according to what we can get for our money. Leo will ask Stacy to provide a budget for her projected services in time to work this into the WMB proposal. Roger is working on getting things together for submitting the WMB grant documents. The timing of WMB meeting and such is in progress. Roger has already spoken to Sean Taar about setting aside 30 or 40k for her.

Scott has some things to go over. He has a packet summary of the aerial flight data. This was sent out in an email. There is some cleaning that needs to be done. He also passed out two maps. This dataset is the input for the GIS dataset, the map handout is just a working example of some of the things we went over at the last meeting. The triangle shown is the area discussed in October. Rough estimate is that only about 5% of aerial observations are included with the buffered areas. Each point in these tables represents a point in the GIS dataset. There are issues in consistency due to passing the data to be processed by different interns at different times; Steve has had to recode several times to address some of these. It is an on-going process.

Leo questions: Do you have any idea how many points within the buffer have no FW reference?

Scott: No.

Leo thinks it would be more interesting to determine how many buffered points include no FW, as some with at least 50% representation in FW are relatively accurate to the true landscape. LP wetlands are those that have a good model fit that could be run to predict climate change, in other words, LP wetlands are a subset that could be used as the entire dataset was intended.

Scott: I showed this to you all b/c if Stacy is going to map wetlands for us, it would be nice if we could tell her where we want her to map. If we knew where there was water, we could give her some kind of reference to bird location, activity, how much water, what kind of water, etc.

Dan points out the transect lines DO VARY BETWEEN YEARS, each year the transects are flown close enough to be effective for what we need, but they are several hundred meters apart.

René: Is Stacy able to investigate where there was water when we saw birds? It would be interesting to see if she picks up anything differently from the FW.

Everyone seems to agree that the wetlands represented in these maps are heavily underrepresented.

Dan: None of these processes are going to be perfect in detecting wetlands. Everyone agrees no process will be, but WHAT IS OUR ACCEPTABLE MARGIN OF ERROR?

René: Is there a way we can help her compensate for the variation between years?

Dan: Can we give her an estimate of the amount of FW we were able to survey based on our surveys to address HOW MANY DUCKS ARE USING THE DOWLEY FLATS BASED ON THE WETLANDS WE KNOW ARE THERE AND BEING USED?

Kyle: That is the most valuable question to be address & highest priority to take this to the funders. When can we have that answer to take to the funders?

Scott thinks the transects were systematically put down based on random generator used to select strata from the statewide SOP to be sampled. The previous GIS guy was asked to generate transects randomly that still include an encompassing picture of wetlands represented across the entire landscape.

Leo thinks striking this accurate representation for the entire area is “pretty doable.”

Dan did not think the transects being flown were as far physically off as they appear to be in the map that Scott provided.

Everyone agrees each flight is a little bit differently, but they are all tracked using data “bread crumbs.”

Roger: The point on the map is where the time was recorded, therefore the outlying circles are now where the birds was actually observed, it is where the observation was made inside the “original 200 m buffer.” Roger can still record the birds within the transect and recorded it. This is a change according to the observational area discussed between those present at the last meeting. Roger Waltman has a field sampling methodology to address this observation question. He does this to include the birds in the transect.

How does this update from Roger affect the work that Scott has been doing on the triangle-transect GPS trail bird observation ‘solution’? There is universal recognition that there is disconnect between the location of the plane, bird, and wetlands.

Leo: We cannot really use the GPS point data. Everyone agrees. We cannot use this polygon analysis b/c the margin of error considering the observation protocol is too great.

Scott: We know where the transect is, we can find the point on the transect closest to the GPS point.

Leo: For anything that we or Stacy would need to do, we will need to stick to the individual transect, we can use individual points with KNOWN bird densities, but drawing other conclusions is not really feasible. If we can identify spatial clusters of ducks, send that to Stacy, she can tell us what kind of wetland was there at the time of sampling.

Dan questions: There are areas that we KNOW ducks are using, that there is water there, but that no water is shown in any of our maps. Those are the problem areas.

Roger asked to see where the transect lines align with each other and the maps, but I do not have ArcGIS on this machine. Roger would like to see how these relate to the landscape to better understand these issues.

Leo: If there is a certain suite of habitats that are more important than others. Climate changes show wetlands that are wet in the spring ONLY, and those are at the greatest risk, if some of these are already being using as ag lands, farmed, or still unknown, especially if they are ecological hotspots.

Kyle: The known hotspots are obviously those of the highest priority and those that we need to protect. Leo: Maybe if working with NDAS, land owners at risk of endangering hotspot wetlands can be identified and effectively worked with.

Kyle: If we even just stuck to focusing on the known hotspots, that would occupy us for a while anyway. Identifying other areas is the thing that will affect our ability to say, “We are as important as Region 14” because our inability to make that statement is what is losing this project’s funding.

Dan: We don’t necessarily need to be able to model it out in a vey detailed way to say and make the argument that areas with observed high concentrations of birds are useful to the bird populations and need to be managed as if they are of critical importance, especially if we KNOW we have seen and likely will continue to observe birds there.

Leo: There is a desire to continue protecting wetlands across the region, including the Steptoe. Wayne the Habitat Biologist says there are a lot of land owners in the Steptoe that want to drain and farm their, which is of course the opposite of what we want.

René: We probably need to find a better way to get a program that pays the landowner a rental rate to restore their wetlands to be used for migrating waterfowl. René does not think we have a program like that in the entire Dowley Flats.

We know from routes like Quintook Elm that there are loads of birds using tiny little pockets with shallow, ephemeral fields, streams, etc.

TRU and TRNU both have wetland petition codes (Kyle), and does not think it will be that difficult to do wetland work under these process codes to support this in this project.

Dan: Is what we are doing with the ground surveys and aerial transects enough to support these kinds of restoration and wetland restoration goals? Is it enough to convince funders and landowners.

Scott: Right now, the only reliable data we have is the number of ducks occupying that area at a point in time.

Dan: Do we change the way we collect wetland type data, which would be supremely complex, to account for these informational needs?

Kyle: Can we do that with the ground surveys?

Dan: The ground surveys are incredibly biased. Is there a way to estimate what proportion of the birds present are using a certain kind of dataset?

Leo: There is no way to statistically estimate the percent of birds per wetland type on the scale of transects. There aerial data as collected now can give us a solid population estimate. It cannot provide an estimate of wetland type use by those birds. If we are going to address those kinds of questions WE NEED TO CHANGE THE WAY WE COLLECT THE DATA.

How do we use the aerial data we have now to extrapolate to the entire Dowley Flats? We know our FW is underrepresenting the landscape and we need to find a way to extrapolate the wetland habitat types to the whole of Dowley Flats, and then use the population estimates. Tying the populations to the wetlands they are using at the time they are observed is not very useful, but on a large scale, we can probably use an argument based on the larger dataset. The purpose of the ground surveys was a bit muted, given that we are now trying to get a flight out every week. Theoretically, the ground surveys were designed to give us the wetland data, but we are now getting that (or trying to) from the aerial data.

Dan: Do we need to re-evaluate how we do the ground surveys, or maybe how we look at them, to account for the redundancy of the way we now know we can potentially use the aerial data.

Everyone agrees there is a way to state the purpose of the data –

Dan: Why are we bashing our heads about trying to get wetland type data from the aerial flights? It does not align with the three reasons we established the ground surveys.

Leo: Working with Stacy may be able to identify a unique UTM signature for a certain wetland type and look at varying years and the birds present there.

Kyle: What about sub-sampling the transects from the ground simultaneously to the aerial flights?

Dan: I don’t know if we need to necessarily do that, since our question is more of a post-analysis. How much water is out there in this time frame? He refers to pond count flights, which was done in 2009 but not 2010 or 2011.

Kyle: How does the amount of water out there and the density of birds translate into the conservation work?

Dan: The point of the conservation work is the keep as much water on the ground as possible, withstanding the effects of climate change. We cannot change climate change. We should not be invested in the large lakes, where the divers are currently being greatly underrepresented. We KNOW the value of the flooded ag lands are so much more valuable, so why are we not narrowing our efforts to maximizing data that supports those kinds of questions.

Leo: I think we can identify what kinds of habitats are important during what parts of the year to duck populations. That is definitely a way we can use the datasets that we have right now. I do not know if we can tie that into specific times and dates, but we can observe how these numbers and the water on the ground change over time. We know that there are portions are the area used more during certain times of the years, and we can kind of describe how those are used at different times.

René: We could have a list of the different habitat types for a location with a bar chart of the population present there at that time. This could be done by week.

Dan: What René is describing we can already do with the data we have. What Leo is suggesting, would require a change to the data collection protocols. I think this would require discussion about adding a point specifically for the habitat type.


Kyle: Hotspots do not need to be a highly specific area, a general hotspot could be just as useful in order to apply this data. We know it will be driven by the landholder. It is good to know the importance of the wetland types being used, but it may not affect the restoration efforts directly.

We already know where some of the major usage hotspots are.

Kyle: What are the dimensions of those hotspots? A kilometer circle? A three-kilometer circle?

Dan: That would require something more than we are doing right now.

Leo: What is your conservation need? How do we use this data to use the data to play into the conservation strategy and what we are going to do on the ground to protect the wetlands.

René: That’s where tying the birds to the wetland type comes in. If we can take actual numbers to certain types, we know we have X number of birds and X numbers of wetland types at this time of year in this general location, we can help a target species population improve using that certain type at that time of year and in that ag land, etc.

Dan: If showing the populations are there is our aim, we are done. I think the aerial survey data really just gets us a population estimate.

Scott: The ground surveys are not a random sample, the aerial surveys are a random sample. If we have these data to corroborate our own surveys about the density at the general location, we have that.

Roger: Going back to the original aim of the ground surveys. Looking at the courser data questions can be used now from the aerial data.

René: Looking at the bird numbers and the habitat types then at that time. The course aerial data to start looking at the overall occupation of the Dowley Flats and the birds there and the percentage of the wetland habitat within the survey polygon. Those are the kinds of course data analysis questions that can be answered now (Roger).

Roger: We got away from tying the transects to the ground percentage. There was a randomly assigned protocol used to choose the aerial transect start point. They did not want to pay attention to whether the percentage of birds. You do not fly over a representative sample, you fly a sample and hope it is representative. And we still ended up with a relatively representative sample.

[I love my job.]

Following this discussion, we reviewed my presentation packet, made a list of requested figures, clarifying what staff would like to get out of the data for different things, agendas for various meetings were listed, follow-ups were assigned, Scott had to leave, the calendar was decided upon, and the laundry list of talks that need to be made were brought up. Everyone agrees we are headed in the right direction. More at 10 April meeting, which will be here, with a projector, roughly a dozen attendees, Dan will send out the agenda and has already reserved the lecture hall.

Meeting ran almost exactly 4 hours.


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