What's that Sound? Scientists Tune in to National Park Audio Research

Elk, owls, coyotes, and snowmobiles all have been heard on Colorado State University campus lately. The sounds are coming from a listening laboratory where a research project between CSU and the National Park Service (NPS)  is analyzing acoustic data recordings to inform and improve management of national parks across the country.

“Sounds, or the lack of them, play a significant role in visitor experiences and wildlife behavior in parks,” said Cecilia White, a research associate for the project. “Acoustic research is a growing field in natural resources sciences and has a variety of important applications from conservation to tourism.”

CSU is collaborating with the NPS Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division (NSNSD) to study detailed park audio recordings that provide valuable clues to wildlife and human park activity and their interaction. The audio data is collected through recording systems that are installed by NSNSD in selected parks for about a month at a time. The systems record audio (as mp3 files) and sound pressure levels (in decibels) and are designed to replicate the experience of a person on the ground. 

NSNSD is part of the Natural Resource Stewardship & Science Directorate of the NPS and uses science, engineering, and technology to understand, restore, maintain, and protect acoustical environments and naturally dark skies throughout the National Park System. CSU researchers currently involved with the program are Ken Wilson, George Wittemyer, and Kevin Crooks with the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, and Lisa Angeloni with the Department of Biology. 

Engaging Students in Acoustic Science
In 2013, the CSU project team created a program to give students the opportunity to gain acoustic research experience.  The students are trained to distinguish different sounds and recognize how they appear on a spectrogram. Once they have tuned their senses, the students listen to recordings from the parks and identify the sounds they hear, such as animals, people, planes, or cars.  They use software designed by NPS to compile the percentage of time a sound was heard, the volume of the sound, and the frequency of the sound.

Coyotes and Owl
Coyote calls and owls

Sparring elk
“This research opportunity taught me the importance of natural soundscapes and how human noises can have a significant impact on environments,” says Samantha Bietsch, a CSU junior majoring in fish, wildlife, and conservation biology. “Now when I am outside, I can distinguish all kinds of noises and identify where they are coming from.  My favorite part of the job was getting to hear the birds wake up in the mornings and hearing the coyotes howl.”

The listening lab just hired seven new student researchers and has employed a total of 18 students since its inception.
The Sound of Success
Acoustic research findings have already been incorporated into management policies. In Yellowstone National Park, the NSNSD documented where, how often, and how loud noise would occur under different management scenarios. Incorporating these data into its winter-use plan allowed Yellowstone to provide recreation benefits to oversnow vehicle users while protecting other visitors and wildlife from noise.

NSNSD acoustical data are also being used by Grand Canyon National Park to help manage air tours and protect visitors and park resources from the effects of aircraft noise.

The Division also projected noise level increases from a proposed highway expansion near Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi. In Glacier National Park, the NSNSD is studying grassland birds and how they are impacted by traffic noise. 

For more information about the NSNSD, click here.

Posted on Oct. 28, 2014 by Taylor Jaquez

Black-Footed Ferret Photo Captured at Soapstone Natural Area!

On September 3rd, 2014 the endangered black-footed ferret was reintroduced to Soapstone Natural Area just north of Fort Collins. Here at CSU, The Wildlife Society's Camera Project (TWSCP) has been monitoring the reintroduction of these ferrets with the remote triggered wildlife cameras. On September 10th cameras captured the first photo of a black-footed ferret near the entrance of a burrow on the Roman House prairie dog colony. 
Ferrets were released on to two prairie dog colonies at Soapstone Natural Area and are expected to expand onto other colonies in years to come. TWSCP is excited to be a part of monitoring the success and outcomes of the black-footed ferret reintroduction. To find out more about TWSCP please visit our website at twscameraproject.wordpress.com!

Photo and article provided by Rebecca Much (FWCB Undergraduate)

Dr. Del Benson Judges for 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Contest

The 2014 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest was recently held September 19th and 20th at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology professor, Dr. Del Benson along with Gloria Erickson, chair of the Nebraska Environmental Trust Board, George Petrides, Sr., founder of the Wild Bird Centers of America, Inc., Peter Anastasi of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and professional artist, Terry Miller constituted the judging panel.    

The panel examined, reviewed and whittled through 186 pieces of waterfowl artwork to select the winning piece by artist, Jennifer Miller, of Olean, N.Y.  

"Miller's acrylic painting of a pair of ruddy ducks will be made into the 2015-2016 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or Duck Stamp, which goes on sale in late June 2015," according to a press release by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  

Dr. Benson's work with private land owners, conservation education, and hunter attitudes and behavior as well as extension work garnered him a spot on this prestigious panel.  


Congress for Wildlife and Livelihoods a Success!

The 8th International Wildlife Ranching Symposium, IWRS, entitled Congress for Wildlife and Livelihoods on Private and Communal Lands: Livestock, Tourism, and Spirit was held Sept 7-12, 2014 in Estes Park.  Over 100 speakers were recruited because of their work and the strength of their messages.

Wildlife on private lands is treated as pests and prizes around the world and they present benefits and barriers to landowners, society, the land, and the broader conservation community.  Needed are interdisciplinary thoughts and actions representing multiple jurisdictions and approaches to affect positive outcomes for biodiversity.

Conclusions from the Congress were positive, yet feelings persist that private landowners and private lands are underrepresented by wildlife and natural resources professionals. The following “Top Ten Review” permeated the gathering:

1.       Systems for wildlife management on private lands differ within each country and between countries: extensively managing the wide open spaces of the Americas with free ranging wildlife; more intensive landowner and user-dominated cooperatives in human-populated Europe; inside fences of South Africa; and unfortunate places with active human livelihoods and minimal wildlife management.

2.       Biologists talk about landowners at their meetings and landowners talk about biologists at their meetings: both need to talk with each other! The Congress fostered interdisciplinary and creative thinking through interactive entertainment, sharing stories with a puppet, videotaping all sessions for future use, and plenary sessions with the entire body.

3.       The most positively talked about keynote address suggested using stories to explain science by adding emotions to information.

4.       Including “Spirit” in the Congress title was appropriate showing that positive spirits make differences and the lack of spirit creates problems.

5.       Good deeds should not be punished!

6.       If it pays, it stays: landowners need value, whether personal, cultural or economic, for wildlife to be encouraged. 

7.       Public ownership of wildlife on privately owned and operated lands creates mixed signals about authority, responsibility and management.

8.       When wildlife must rely on landscapes that are dominated by private lands (around 60% of Colorado and the US and greater in many places around the world), then landowners become the de facto manager with good or bad outcomes for society and the environment.

9.       Landowners care. 

10.     Landowners need to be functional partners in nature conservation.

Administrative outcomes from the Congress included a permanent international home and secretariat funded through Wildlife Ranching South Africa; the 9th meeting of IWRS is planned for September 2016 in Southern Africa; and the 10th meeting of IWRS is proposed for 2018 in conjunction with The Wildlife Society’s 6th International Wildlife Management Congress and will likely be held in South America.

Follow the outcomes and progress from the Congress through published abstracts, upcoming video outreach from the Internet of all sessions at http://tiny.cc/2014WildlifeCongress and under the 8th International Congress Category in http://LandHelp.info.