USGS News

Science-Based Mitigation Techniques Benefit Greater Sage-Grouse

Summary: Greater sage-grouse nests found in natural gas development areas where mitigation actions were taken to minimize development impacts had slightly higher nest survival than similar areas where such actions were not taken, according to research by U.S. Geological Survey and others

Contact Information:

Carol Schuler ( Phone: 541-750-1031 ); Catherine Puckett ( Phone: 352-377-2469 );



CORVALLIS, Ore. — Greater sage-grouse nests found in natural gas development areas where mitigation actions were taken to minimize development impacts had slightly higher nest survival than similar areas where such actions were not taken, according to research by U.S. Geological Survey and others.

This site-scale study, conducted in a coal-bed methane area of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, showed that enhanced mitigation efforts somewhat increased the probability of at least one sage-grouse egg hatching per nest in a particular nesting season.  

Mitigation techniques are actions taken to avoid, minimize or offset the impacts of human activities on an ecosystem or a species, such as minimizing sagebrush removal and using remote monitoring of wells to reduce vehicle traffic.

The article, co-authored by the Big Horn Environmental Consultants, Boise State University, and USGS and published in the journal Wildlife Biology, looks at the application of science-based on-site mitigation techniques and sage-grouse nest survival in the Intermountain West.

“High nest survival is critical to the species’ continued existence,” said USGS emeritus scientist and co-author Dr. Mark Fuller. “These are ground-nesting birds that produce on average 6-10 eggs each year. Their nests are vulnerable to predation and other factors, making it difficult for the greater sage-grouse populations to maintain numbers.”

From 2008 to 2011, scientists monitored 296 greater sage-grouse nests in a coal-bed methane development where Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, applied mitigation measures above and beyond base mitigation measures to determine if these measures would reduce negative impacts to greater sage-grouse.  The base mitigation measures are required by the BLM in its 2003 Environmental Impact Statement for the Powder River Basin.

Over a 362-square-mile area, researchers measured nest survival in areas where the enhanced mitigation measures were applied, areas where only base techniques were used and in relatively unaltered areas without oil and gas development. Nest survival was determined by the evidence of at least one successfully hatched egg per nest, a standard measurement in avian scientific studies.  Multiple studies have shown that poor nest survival rates can dramatically limit population growth in sage-grouse. Key findings include:

  • Estimated nest survival rates were highest in unaltered areas with no oil or gas development (64 percent), next highest in areas where enhanced mitigation techniques were used (59 percent), and lowest in areas where base mitigation practices were used (54 percent).
  • Of the mitigation measures implemented, piping discharge water to a treatment facility instead of constructing an on-site reservoir for produced waters had the greatest positive benefit on sage-grouse nest survival. Retention reservoirs result in direct habitat loss, may facilitate the spread of sage-grouse predators, and increase habitat for mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus, thus expanding sage-grouse exposure to this disease.
  • Reducing surface disturbance, particularly sagebrush removal, was also an important factor in nest success. The importance of sagebrush cover to sage-grouse nest survival is well known.

“In asking the question, does on-site mitigation reduce impacts of development on greater sage-grouse, we found that properly targeted mitigation can benefit greater sage-grouse nest survival in energy development areas,” said Chris Kirol, a research biologist with Big Horn Environmental Consultants and lead author of the study. “However, we also found that nests located in areas outside of energy development had the highest survival rates. Our results can help inform future adaptive management and greater sage-grouse conservation efforts in sagebrush habitat affected by energy development.”

Sagebrush habitat is increasingly being developed for oil and gas resources, and land managers face complex challenges in balancing energy demands with conservation measures for sagebrush-dependent species such as the greater sage-grouse. Agencies responsible for managing sagebrush habitat and greater sage-grouse populations encourage the use of adaptive management measures, such as science-based mitigation during oil and gas development and operations. Adaptive management is an approach for improving resource management by learning from and incorporating previous management outcomes into present plans.

Greater sage-grouse occur in parts of 11 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces in western North America.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is formally reviewing the status of greater sage-grouse to determine if the species is warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

New Interactive Flood Warning Maps for the Blue River Basin in Kansas and Missouri

Summary: A new interactive online tool to improve flood warnings and emergency management is now available in selected parts of Johnson County, Kansas, and Jackson County, Missouri

Contact Information:

Jennifer LaVista ( Phone: 303-202-4764 );



A new interactive online tool to improve flood warnings and emergency management is now available in selected parts of Johnson County, Kansas, and Jackson County, Missouri. These new maps were developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Overland Park, Kansas, and the City of Kansas City, Missouri. 

This new tool will help emergency managers from national, state and local agencies make quick decisions about when and how to evacuate residents threatened by rising floodwaters. The flood-inundation maps, developed using USGS streamgages already in place, will enable better flood preparedness and response. 

The USGS Flood Inundation Mapping product is an interactive web-based tool that shows the extent of flooding at selected rivers and streams across the U.S. The maps illustrate where flooding is occurring, as well as areas that will likely flood in the near future. The flood-forecasting portion of the map is determined by using real-time USGS streamgage information and flood-forecast information by the National Weather Service (NWS). The mapping product can be found online. For more information, visit the USGS Flood Inundation Mapping Program website

“This technology will greatly help the public and officials minimize flood deaths and damage in the Kansas City metropolitan area,” said Lynda Hoffman, Division Manager Waterways Division Kansas City Water Services. “When flood events are predicted by the NWS, the inundation mapping will provide crucial information on the web to residents and business along the Blue River for deciding when to evacuate or move critical equipment to higher ground.”

Locally, the map features the Blue River and its tributaries, including Tomahawk and Indian Creeks in Johnson County, Kansas, and Indian and Brush Creeks in Jackson County, Missouri. The flood-inundation maps will encompass nearly 60 miles of the Blue River and its tributaries, and is the largest contiguous-mapped network of its kind in the country. A full report on the flood-inundation maps for Indian Creek and Tomahawk Creek is available online. Flood-inundation maps for the Blue River main stem, Brush Creek, and lower Indian Creek in Missouri are also available.

For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.

Access current flood and high flow conditions across the country by visiting the USGS WaterWatch website. Receive instant, customized updates about water conditions in your area via text message or email by signing up for USGS WaterAlert. See where floodwaters go by following a stream trace at Streamer. View water data on your mobile device. Learn how a USGS streamgage works.

Alaska Climate Science Center Designer to Receive International Vizzie Award

Summary: Kristin Timm, a designer with the Interior Department's Alaska Climate Science Center and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning, is among 10 designers who were recently recognized internationally for excellence in science communication

Contact Information:

Kristin Timm ( Phone: 907-474-7064 ); Shad  O’Neel ( Phone: 907-786-7088 );



ANCHORAGE – Kristin Timm, a designer with the Interior Department's Alaska Climate Science Center and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning, is among 10 designers who were recently recognized internationally for excellence in science communication.

Cosponsored by Popular Science magazine and the National Science Foundation, the Visualization Challenge competition — the Vizzies — recognizes some of the best scientific photos, videos, posters and illustrations produced each year.

Timm and her collaborators received the People’s Choice award in the poster division for their illustration entitled "From Icefield to Ocean."

The illustration was one of over 300 entries into the annual competition, which has been held for more than a decade. During two rounds of judging, science and visualization experts narrowed the entries to 50 finalists. Readers voted online for the People’s Choice award, and independent experts vetted the winners for accuracy.

Timm worked with glaciologists Shad O' Neel, from the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center, and Eran Hood, from the University of Alaska Southeast. She also worked with ecologist Allison Bidlack, from the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center.

The figure they developed depicts the important linkages between glaciers and the ocean. The team felt that it was particularly important to find a compelling way to communicate these research findings to Alaskans because Alaska's coastal glaciers are among the most rapidly changing areas on the planet and glacier runoff can influence marine habitats, ocean currents and economic activities.

The work was supported by the Interior Department's Alaska Climate Science Center. Established in 2011, the regional center is one of eight across the United States that bring together university, federal and other researchers to meet climate change research needs.

The figure will be published in the March 2015 issue of Popular Science. "From Icefield to Ocean" and the other contest winners can also be viewed on the Popular Science website.

Lake Okeechobee Seepage Barrier May Have Changed Salinity in Portions of Aquifer

Summary: LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla.– The first section of a seepage barrier designed to prevent catastrophic failure of the 143-mile Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, Florida may have unintentionally caused changes in the salinity of portions of the shallow aquifer near the lake, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

Contact Information:

Scott  Prinos ( Phone: 954-377-5944 ); Christian Quintero ( Phone: 813-498-5019 );



LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla.– The first section of a seepage barrier designed to prevent catastrophic failure of the 143-mile Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, Florida may have unintentionally caused changes in the salinity of portions of the shallow aquifer near the lake, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

The study looked at results of ongoing monitoring efforts at 10 sites spanning a distance of about 60 miles on the southeastern and southern edges of the lake. These sites are within 80 to 1550 feet of the dike. While there were some minor changes in salinity levels at all of the locations, only those along the portion of the dike where the seepage barrier had already been installed showed signs of saltwater upwelling from deeper in the aquifer. This upwelling changed the depth of the saltwater interface, where saltwater and freshwater mix in the aquifer, ultimately resulting in saltwater rising higher in monitoring wells, leaving less freshwater on top. At one location, the depth of the saltwater became shallower by 19 feet, resulting in a 60-foot deep monitoring well that had previously yielded freshwater beginning to yield salty water.

The dike was built in the 1930s to prevent floods like those in 1926 and 1928 that killed an estimated 2,400 to 3,400 people. While it has successfully served its purpose since then, researchers found that water seepage during hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 damaged the dike. Water seepage like this is responsible for about 20 percent of dam failures in the U.S., according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

To address the potential dam failure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began constructing a seepage barrier in 2008. The barrier protects the dike by diverting the flow of water well beneath it. The first part of the barrier is a 23-mile long, 50-to-70 feet deep, wall of grout installed in the section of the dike that was considered most vulnerable. This part of the barrier extends from Port Mayaca to Belle Glade, and was completed in the spring of 2013.

In some places, the barrier extends into a layer of saltwater in the shallow aquifer that is most likely a remnant of seawater from when the ocean covered the land. The shallow aquifer, in this area, extends from the surface to a depth of about 100 feet and is a local source of freshwater used by some residents and businesses in the area.

“We’ve been monitoring these sites for 3 years,” said Scott Prinos, a USGS hydrologist and lead author of the study. “What we’re seeing is that, in locations where the seepage barrier extends to depths near or below that portion of the aquifer where freshwater and saltwater mix, the interface moved upward, and the salinity of that portion of the aquifer increased.  At one location, for example, there were no changes in salinity until one month after the seepage barrier was completed.”

Because monitoring efforts to date have only been a short distance from the dike, the researchers cannot determine how far from the lake these changes may extend.  

“Our hope is that this and future research will help landowners, local and state officials as they work to address water quality and availability in this area in the future,” said Prinos.  

The report, “Changes in the Saltwater Interface Corresponding to the Installation of a Seepage Barrier Near Lake Okeechobee, Florida,” by Scott T. Prinos and Robert Valderrama is available online.

USGS Identifies Areas with Critical Mineral Resource Potential in North-Central Alaska

Summary: New maps highlighting areas with potential for placer gold and five other critical mineral deposit types in the Bureau of Land Management’s Central Yukon Planning Area in central and northern Alaska are being released today

Contact Information:

Jamey Jones ( Phone: 907-786-7442 ); Paul  Laustsen ( Phone: 650-329-4046 );



Estimated potential for rare earth element (REE) deposits in watersheds across the BLM Central Yukon Planning Area and surrounding regions, northern Alaska. (High resolution image)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska. — New maps highlighting areas with potential for placer gold and five other critical mineral deposit types in the Bureau of Land Management’s Central Yukon Planning Area in central and northern Alaska are being released today. The maps were created using a geographic information system-based method for identifying areas with mineral resource potential across large regions. The maps are of particular importance because they identify potential sources for critical elements in short supply globally that are essential for modern society. 

“These maps are designed to help land managers make more informed decisions with regard to areas with mineral resource potential across Alaska,” said James Jones, the lead author of the study, and a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, “What I’m most excited about is our new data-driven method that identifies numerous areas across a vast region with potential for discovery of a variety of important commodities.”

The new mapping method, developed by the USGS in cooperation with the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys as part of a strategic and critical minerals initiative, was applied to the CYPA region at the request of the BLM to aid in their resource management planning. This study evaluated potential for rare earth element deposits associated with alkali-rich intrusive rocks, placer gold deposits, platinum group element deposits associated with iron- and magnesium-rich, silica-poor igneous rocks like basalts, carbonate-hosted copper deposits, sandstone uranium deposits, and tin-tungsten-molybdenum-fluorspar deposits associated with some specialized granites.

"This level of analysis will benefit the BLM's planning process tremendously,” said Steve Cohn, BLM Alaska Deputy State Director, Resources. “This evaluation taps into the USGS' vast database of mineral-sample and mineral-occurrence information. It was designed at a scale to compliment the BLM's other resources data using the USGS' expertise with commodity and strategic minerals. This effort represents a significant advancement in mineral resource evaluations."

The maps indicate estimated potential as either low, medium, or high for a given mineral deposit group in each watershed, based on the availability of lithologic, geochemical, and geophysical data in each.

Core datasets used include the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Geochemical Database, the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys web-based geochemical database, data from the upcoming USGS geologic map of Alaska, the USGS Alaska Resource Data File, and airborne radiometric surveys from the National Uranium Resource Evaluation.