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Carrizo Colloquium 2013

Keeping the Carrizo Connected: Stepping Beyond the National Monument
SPEAKER: Dave Hacker

The northern Carrizo Plain has long been considered part of an essential habitat linkage for the endangered San Joaquin kit fox. This presentation will examine the northern Carrizo Plain’s geographic context to explain the dual functions of connecting populations while harboring part of a core population of kit fox. I will summarize the habitat connectivity analysis that occurred in response to the Carrizo Plains solar projects and the subsequent habitat conservation that occurred as required mitigation for the projects. Lastly, I will discuss the future steps needed to secure habitat connectivity to and through the northern Carrizo Plain.

Dave Hacker graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in March of 1998. Continuously since then, based in San Luis Obispo, Dave has worked throughout California’s Central Coast on biological inventories, impact assessments, and mitigation projects, both independently and at State agencies. Since 2008, Dave has been working for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in a regulatory capacity on utility-scale renewable energy projects, including the solar projects in the Carrizo Plains. Email Dave

Keeping the Carrizo Connected
Stepping Beyond the National Monument

Pronghorn fawn survival on the Carrizo Plain, California
SPEAKER: Diego Johnson

Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) inhabiting the Carrizo Plain in California are a species of management and conservation concern. Pronghorn population size in this region has declined considerably over the past decade and numbers remain critically low. Recently, large-scale construction of solar photovoltaic plants on the northern end of the Carrizo Plain has raised further concern for local pronghorn. These facilities will be located in areas containing known fawning and foraging habitat. Elimination of, or reduced access to these habitats has the potential to decrease offspring survival and ultimately limit population recovery. Although mitigation lands have been set aside, it is largely unknown how pronghorn will utilize those lands. In this study, we equipped fawns with lightweight GPS collars to measure survival and determine causes of mortality. We then used information from collared individuals to evaluate the relationship between fawn habitat selection and survival in areas surrounding solar power development and within mitigation lands. Results from this study can provide agencies with an important resource for making management decisions to improve habitat on mitigation lands and to reduce potential negative impacts of future solar development.

Diego Johnson is a field biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a graduate student (M.S. in Ecology) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His research focuses on pronghorn fawn survival. Specifically, he is interested in how survival is influenced by habitat quality, predation, and pronghorn population density.


Pronghorn fawn survival on the northern Carrizo Plain

San Joaquin Kit Fox Demography, Ecology, and Conservation in the Northern Carrizo Plain
SPEAKER: Brian Cypher

The Carrizo Plain constitutes one of the 3 remaining core areas for endangered San Joaquin kit foxes. Two large solar energy generation projects are under construction in the northern portion of the Carrizo Plain. To mitigate for impacts to kit foxes from one of these projects, conservation lands have been purchased and provided to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. In January 2013, we initiated an investigation of kit fox demographic and ecological attributes on these lands. The overall goal of the project is to determine appropriate management strategies to facilitate kit fox conservation. We live-trapped 10 foxes and fitted them with GPS collars. Foxes were monitored during January-July 2013 to assess survival, sources of mortality, reproduction, den use patterns, home range use, movement patterns, and food habits. Preliminary results from this investigation will be presented.

Brian Cypher is the Associate Director and a Research Ecologist with the California State University – Stanislaus, Endangered Species Recovery Program. His primary research interest is the ecology and conservation of wild canids. Since 1990, he has been involved in research and conservation efforts for endangered San Joaquin kit foxes and other sensitive species in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

San Joaquin Kit Fox Demography, Ecology, and Conservation in the Northern Carrizo Plains

Title: Utility-scale Solar Development in Giant Kangaroo Rat Habitat: A Case study of Conservation through Extraordinary Collaboration and Teamwork
SPEAKER: Brian Boroski

The California Valley Solar Ranch is a photovoltaic solar power production facility designed to be a significant, viable, and sustainable component of California’s energy mix that will generate clean, renewable energy for more than 25 years. The facility is located on approximately 1700 acres along the northern edge of the Carrizo Plain in an area previously utilized for grazing livestock and dryland production of grain crops. A great deal of care was taken in designing not only the layout of the project but also how the project would be constructed; with a significant focus on conserving special-status species such as the endangered giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens).

Prior to the start of construction, engineers, solar developers, and biologists spent countless hours integrating collaboratively generated conservation principles into an iterative design process in order to minimize impacts to special-status species such as the giant kangaroo rat. In addition to avoidance of occupied giant kangaroo rat habitat, a program to relocate giant kangaroo rats from impact areas to onsite conservation lands was developed and implemented.

As a result of the collaborative efforts and teamwork, only 74 percent of the giant kangaroo rats approved for relocation were moved and more than 11,000 acres of habitat containing greater than 30,000 giant kangaroo rat precincts will be preserved and managed in perpetuity. The California Valley Solar Ranch is a shining example that innovation works through collaboration and when combined with relentless teamwork and execution can contribute to regional multi-species conservation efforts.

Brian Boroski is vice president of H.T. Harvey & Associates, a principal in its wildlife ecology group, and head of operations in the San Joaquin Valley office. He specializes in the development and implementation of strategies addressing CEQA/NEPA compliance, state and federal Endangered Species Act requirements, Clean Water Act permitting, and state and federal agency procedures. His broad areas of expertise include renewable energy projects; “green” commercial and residential planning; conservation area planning; and water storage, use, transfer, and disposal. He holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from Humboldt State University and a Ph.D. in Wildland Resource Science from UC Berkeley.


Utility-scale Solar Development in Giant Kangaroo Rat Habitat:
A Case study of Conservation through Extraordinary Collaboration and Teamwork

Presentation Title: Carrizo Plain National Monument Vegetation Inventory and Mapping Project
SPEAKERS: Jennifer Buck-Diaz

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) recently produced a fine-scale vegetation map for the Carrizo Plain National Monument in collaboration with the US Bureau of Land Management and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The map encompasses over 247,000 acres with the primary attribute of vegetation type; additional attributes include structural information (e.g., herbaceous, shrub and tree cover), and disturbance and site quality information for each polygon. We will summarize the field sampling and mapping efforts, including the installation of long-term monitoring plots, the resulting classification and key to the vegetation types, and ground truthing to verify the map’s accuracy. The fine-scale vegetation map and supporting field survey data provide baseline information for long-term land management, conservation, and wildlife protection within the Carrizo Plain. Applications of the map include identification and maintenance of habitats suitable for federally listed plant and animal species, assessment of vegetation change over time, and increased understanding of ecosystem functions and processes within both the Monument and the broader Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley regions.

Jennifer Buck-Diaz is the Vegetation Ecologist and Botanist with the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) Vegetation Program. She works to survey, classify, and map vegetation in California. She earned both a B.S. and an M.S. degree from the University of California, Davis in Plant Biology.

Habitat Use and Home Range Estimates for Tule Elk in Eastern San Luis Obispo County
SPEAKER: Robert Stafford

After nearly going extinct, tule elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes) were reintroduced into previously occupied range and now nearly 4,000 tule elk can be found in California. Concurrent with these releases has been the desire to manage habitat for this species. To better understand the amount of area and habitat types used by this species, we placed GPS radio collars on 14 female and 4 male tule elk in eastern San Luis Obispo County. Home ranges ranged from 3,600 to 12,600 ha ( =8,441 ha) for cow elk. Bull elk home ranges were significantly larger (p=0.026) and ranged from 8,300 to 31,400 ha ( =20,915). There was no movement of female elk between subherds even though the subherds were only a few miles apart. However, males did move between subherds, particularly during the rut. Elk primarily used grasslands with lesser use of coastal scrub, desert scrub and juniper woodland. Chaparral communities and oak woodlands were avoided. Preliminary analyses suggest that elk selected grasslands that had not been grazed by cattle within the previous three years. Future work will entail analyses of habitat use patterns utilizing more refined vegetation data.

Robert Stafford has a worked on a wide array of wildlife species in central California for over 25 years. Research subjects have ranged from black bears, tule elk, and San Joaquin kit foxes to desert tortoises, blunt-nosed leopard lizards, and western pond turtles. His primary expertise is the vertebrate ecology of the Carrizo Plains region where he is working with colleagues to refine aerial monitoring techniques for detecting large scale population trends in giant kangaroo rats. He is currently employed as an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) and is the reserve manager for a number of CDFG properties including the Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve. (Photographed by Karen Stafford)


Developing and testing monitoring strategies for Le Conte’s Thrasher (Toxostoma lecontei), evaluating and modeling its distribution and habitat needs, collecting baseline population data, and developing an online data entry system to allow for the collection, sharing, and analysis of population data
SPEAKERS: Geoff Geupel &
Dennis Jongsomjit

Le Conte’s Thrasher (Toxostoma lecontei) is an uncommon desert species associated with hot and dry climates throughout the southwestern United States. It is found throughout the Mojave and Sonoran desert portions of Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California except for a disjunct population found in California’s San Joaquin Valley. This population has been recognized as a CA Bird Species of Special Concern due to greatly reduced range and population size, habitat loss and degradation, overgrazing, and fire. Surprisingly, no systematic effort has specifically tracked this population, its habitat associations, and its population changes over time. Currently, this population is only known to occur in a few locations, but several of these places have not been surveyed for years. Our work over the past 4 years has been focused on developing and testing monitoring strategies for this species, evaluating and modeling its distribution and habitat needs, collecting baseline population data, and developing an online data entry system to allow for the collection, sharing, and analysis of population data. Ultimately, we would like to determine the health of this population within and outside of the Carrizo National Monument, identify important habitat characteristics and locations, and promote public participation in this process over the long term.

Geoff Geupel: For nearly 20 years I directed the PRBO Terrestrial Division program (formerly landbird program). In 2010 I became director of Point Blue’s Emerging Projects and Partnerships Group where my main objective is to integrate results, tools, and products of Point Blue’s long-term and cutting edge research and monitoring programs with partners and conservation initiatives. In recent years, my and Point Blue’s focus has evolved from just assessment to implementation. Our vision is to put better more appropriate conservation practices on-the- ground (and of course monitor to ensure success) to improve conservation outcomes and reduce the impacts of climate change, habitat loss, and other threats to wildlife and people.

Dennis Jongsomjit: As a GIS Specialist in the Climate Change Group I have focused my efforts on modeling, mapping, and investigating landscape and climate change factors affecting wildlife populations. After college I did 6 years of fieldwork doing nest searching, bird banding, and bird surveys throughout CA. I’ve since worked on projects examining the potential future distributions and abundance of vegetation and birds throughout the western U.S. and northern Mexico, modeling the distributions of mesopredators in the Southern Ocean, and modeling the effects of sea-level rise on tidal marsh habitat around San Francisco Bay.

Le Conte’s Thrasher Monitoring and Conservation on the Carrizo Plain

The impact of climate change and vegetation succession on extinction of the Blunt Nosed Leopard Lizard on the Carrizo Plain and across the species range
SPEAKER: Barry Sinervo

We describe new extinction models premised on the opportunity for behavioral thermoregulation, and using data on the impacts of vegetation structure on population recruitment and extinction, across the Blunt Nosed Leopard Lizard (BNLL). We find that historical factors linked to elevated plant cover are linked to extinctions in the northern populations of BNLL (from the 1980s to present). These extinctions have enigmatically occurred on sites that have not yet been dramatically altered by human development. We also predict extinctions of most populations of BNLL on the valley floor of the Central Valley, due to the impacts of climate warming. We infer that the Carrizo plain will remain a long-term refuge from climate warming, but the available evidence suggests careful management of grazing might improve long-term persistence of this species. Plots where grazing regimes are manipulated would will be necessary to validate our hypotheses.

Barry Sinervo is a Distinguished Professor of Biology in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at U.C. Santa Cruz. Much of his work focuses on the microevolutionary changes in behavior and physiology of lizards. He earned his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Washington, Seattle and is the co-author of Adaptive Genetic Variation in the Wild (Oxford University Press, 2000).

The potential impacts of climate change and vegetation succession extinctions of Blunt Nosed Leopard Lizards