(Andrea Karoglanian, wildlife biologist with the Confederated Tribes, shared this information recently about the wildlife populations on the reservation.)
Conducting wildlife surveys can be difficult, time consuming and expensive, depending on what you are surveying and the method you use to survey.
Deer and elk surveys are conducted by helicopter, and are done at a time when the animals are most concentrated. This is during winter or spring green up.
The entire reservation is not flown, due to time and cost constraints.
Deer and elk winter range, the lower elevation area primarily on the east half of the reservation, is broken down into 94 units. Each of those units are ranked as a high or low unit.
Units are ranked before each survey, based on habitat information, weather and tribal member input. We ask tribal hunters, and people who spend a lot of time on the ground, where they are seeing a lot of deer and elk.
We also look at some of the hunting results to see where people are harvesting deer and elk, which indicates where there may be a decent population of animals.
We then look at what the weather is doing, or has done the weeks prior to the surveys. The snow and cold event that just happened will be very helpful for us conducting our surveys in mid December. The snow and cold will help push the animals down into the lower elevation habitat, where they will be more concentrated and more easily visible.
Once the units are ranked, we can determine what units we will fly. We will fly all of the high ranked units, and then the low ranked units will be randomly selected.
We will fly a total of 35 to 40 units. When we fly the units there are two or three observers and the pilot.
We fly the entire unit in a grid pattern to ensure we cover the entire area and don’t miss animals or double count animals.
We use a GPS to track our flight and to record the animals seen. When we see an animal we record the location, the number of animals seen, the sex of the animals, whether they are an adult or juvenile; and, if it is male, the number of points.
Once the surveys are completed, we compile all the data and run it through a model. This can give an estimate of the population for the entire reservation. This is an estimate, so there is some error that is accounted for.
If we do not rank the units properly as high or low units before the survey it can skew the estimate, so it takes good knowledge of the animals and the area being surveyed to get an accurate estimate.
Question: Why does the Wildlife Department request hunter harvest information to be returned after hunting season?
The answer is that it helps us with our deer and elk population estimates, as well as determining our buck ratios. It helps us determine the impact that the hunting activities are having on the populations.
It also helps us focus our wildlife habitat restoration efforts.
All the information hunters provide helps us to better manage the long-term sustainability of the wildlife populations on and off the reservation.
One of the main duties of my job is to provide the technical guidance to ensure that wildlife populations are responsibly managed not only for the current generations, but also the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of these generations.
So that’s why I try to collect and provide as much wildlife information as possible, to help the tribes make management decisions that are in their best interest. That being said, as the wildlife biologist, my main focus, of course, is going to be geared toward responsible wildlife management.
Big horn sheep are surveyed at the same time as the deer and elk from the helicopter.
They are easier to survey, and we usually count all the animals because they are found in a distinct small area.
The mountain goat surveys are also conducted by helicopter for obvious reasons: They are found in very steep rugged terrain that would be extremely difficult to access from the ground.
We coordinate with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to conduct the surveys because the state agency pays for and organizes the surveys. Warm Springs Natural Resources are included in the surveys. All habitat for the goats is surveyed, because they are also found within a limited area.
Eagles, spotted owls
We also monitor Bald and Golden eagle populations on the reservation. Those are conducted on the ground during the nesting season.
Mainly we monitor reproductive success to determine whether the population is going up or down. Those surveys are not very time intensive.
Northern spotted owls are monitored annually during the nesting season.
Spotted owls are a Threatened species and are protected under the Endangered Species Act, so the monitoring is due to an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The purpose is to monitor population growth or decline as well as determine whether they are occupying habitat or not.
This is due to the amount of timber harvest that takes place on the reservation. The owls only nest in mature, older forests, so timber harvest activities directly impact their habitat and populations. These surveys are also conducted on the ground and primarily at night.
There is not really any monitoring of other wildlife species at this time. As stated earlier, wildlife monitoring can be very time intensive and expensive, so we are really limited by the number of staff and funding available.
Predator monitoring is definitely needed; however, there aren’t really a lot of easy ways to monitor predators.
It most likely would involve trapping and collaring animals to determine population densities. These techniques are both expensive and time consuming.
It would also be beneficial to monitor songbird and small mammal populations, because a lot these animals are indicators of habitat conditions, and may also be used to estimate predator populations. But again, this is limited by available staff and money.
In the future the Wildlife Department hopes to acquire grant or some other funding to study some of these