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Technical Announcements
Updated: 2 hours 23 min ago

Plenty of Potash, but Some Regions Lack Low Cost Sources for Crop Production

Tue, 03/03/2015 - 08:14
Summary: While the earth contains enough potash to meet the increased global demand for crop production  and U.S. supplies are likely secure, some regions lack potash deposits needed for optimal food crop yields

Contact Information:

Diane Noserale ( Phone: 703-648-4333 ); Greta Orris ( Phone: 520-670-5583 );



While the earth contains enough potash to meet the increased global demand for crop production  and U.S. supplies are likely secure, some regions lack potash deposits needed for optimal food crop yields. According to a recent USGS global assessment of potash resources, the costs of importing potash long distances can limit its use and imports are subject to supply disruptions.

“Global scarcity is not the issue with potash – transportation costs are,” said USGS scientist Greta Orris, who led the assessment. “We chose to assess potash because it is used primarily for fertilizer and with the increasing global population, the need for agricultural lands to be increasingly productive will continue,” said Orris. 

The U.S. imports more than 80 percent of the potash it uses, mostly from the Elk Point Basin in Saskatchewan, Canada. The Elk Basin is the world’s largest source of potash, having provided at least 20 percent of the world’s potash supply for nearly 40 years. 

The U.S. produces potash from deposits in Utah and New Mexico. While production from the Michigan basin recently ceased, a large potash resource exists there.  Production and development of resources in Michigan have been hindered by low potash prices, dated production equipment, and poor transport infrastructure amongst other factors. A significant potash resource in Arizona has also been identified, but resources in other states tend to be relatively small.

This global assessment, which includes a summary report and accompanying database, is the most complete, up-to-date, GIS-based, global compilation of information on known and potential potash resources from evaporite sources. The database includes more than 900 known potash deposits with measured resources. It also outlines 84 tracts throughout the world where undiscovered future resources might be found. 

“A significant finding of this assessment is that there appears to be little to no potential to develop potash mines in either China or India, where large populations create the need for highly productive agricultural land, which in turn requires large amounts of appropriate fertilizers,” said Orris. “High import costs have resulted in lower usage of potash fertilizers than commonly seen in the U.S., and the potential for the land to be less productive.”

Potash includes a variety of minerals, ores, or processed products that contain potassium, one of three primary plant nutrients essential for growing food crops and biofuels. Modern agriculture requires large quantities of potassium so crop production is adequate to feed a growing population as arable land acreage becomes more limited. While potassium can be derived from other sources, conventional potash deposits – those formed by evaporation -- are the only cost- effective source for large quantities of potassium needed for high-yield agriculture.

The known deposits include location, geology, resource, production and other descriptive information. Potash-bearing basins may host tens of millions to more than 100 billion metric tons of potassium. Examples include Elk Point Basin in Canada, the Pripyat Basin in Belarus, the Solikamsk Basin in western Russia, and the Zechstein Basin in Germany.

The biggest potash producers are Canada, Russia, Belarus, and Israel. In addition to China and India, other areas lacking conventional deposits include much of Africa, Australia, and South America.

For the 84 tracts, the quantities of undiscovered resources are not estimated in this report. Instead, the tracts are classified into six categories that rank their potential to provide potash resources in 25 to 50 years based on known resources in the tract, level of available information, and whether geologic or other deficiencies, such as lack of water, power, or other infrastructure, could prevent or delay development of deposits. Potash tracts that may have potash deposits in production within the next five years include those in Ethiopia and the Republic of Congo.

More information on global and domestic potash, including demand, production, and uses is available from the USGS.

Study Reveals Recent Geologic History of Roanoke River Floodplain

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 10:04
Summary: After surveying and analyzing centuries of evidence in the floodplain of the lower Roanoke River, USGS researchers, along with colleagues from the universities of Wisconsin and North Carolina, have developed a highly accurate estimate of sediment deposition amounts along the course of the river over three timescales — annual, decadal, and centennial Findings can inform scenarios of sea level rise

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Cliff Hupp ( Phone: 703-648-5207 );



After surveying and analyzing centuries of evidence in the floodplain of the lower Roanoke River, USGS researchers, along with colleagues from the universities of Wisconsin and North Carolina, have developed a highly accurate estimate of sediment deposition amounts along the course of the river over three timescales — annual, decadal, and centennial. 

The investigators used a range of techniques, including evidence from clay pads, tree-rings, and pollen analyses, at numerous locations (58 transects, 378 stations) and employed GIS technology to model sediment deposition rates and characteristics to gain insight into the sediment dynamics of the Roanoke, one of the largest river flood plains on the mid-Atlantic coast. 

The scientists found that sediment deposition rates from AD 1725 to 1850 were an order of magnitude higher than present deposition rates and still affect the sediment dynamics of today. These high rates have been attributed to land clearance and poor agricultural practices during and after the colonial period. This legacy sediment deposition formed high banks upstream and the large, wide levees found along the middle reaches of the river. 

Furthermore, dam operations, most notably the Kerr Dam completed in 1953, have reduced deposition on natural levees but facilitated backswamp deposition. A GIS-model of current river dynamics indicates that little sediment presently reaches Albemarle Sound because it is trapped on the floodplain, generally benefitting lower floodplain ecosystems and mitigating the transport of excess nutrients to coastal marine systems. 

The study findings highlight the important role played by landscape alteration, including post-Colonial forest clearance and dam emplacement, in controlling modern sediment dynamics. The use of multiple techniques to determine sediment deposition rates should improve capabilities of developing accurate sediment budgets along different reaches of the river. In turn, this will aid predictions of the response of the river and associated habitats to changing sea level.  

The research was recently published in the journal Geomorphology.

 

What's Being Done to Protect the Great Lakes?

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 12:45
Summary: New and improved science tools can help managers and researchers evaluate current threats and develop management strategies to protect and restore the valuable Great Lakes ecosystem New Products Provide Easy Access to Restoration Information

Contact Information:

Marisa Lubeck ( Phone: 303-202-4765 );



New and improved science tools can help managers and researchers evaluate current threats and develop management strategies to protect and restore the valuable Great Lakes ecosystem.    

The recently released U.S. Geological Survey products provide free environmental data to the public as part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), a collaborative effort to conserve the Great Lakes. The new GLRI Science Explorer and redesigned GLRI website (most compatible with the Google Chrome browser*), launched in November 2014, offer critical information pertaining to USGS GLRI projects, and allow researchers to contribute their own material. The interactive Science in the Great Lakes (SiGL) mapper was released in December 2014 and provides information about current and past Great Lakes studies.   

Researchers, managers and the public can use the GLRI Science Explorer to find information about USGS GLRI science projects, as well as publications and datasets resulting from those projects. It currently contains information about 74 projects that are completed and in progress, 66 publications and 11 datasets. Science Explorer information is stored in ScienceBase, a cataloging and content management platform developed by the USGS, which allows for contributions from USGS scientists and collaborators. 

“We are eagerly seeking contributions of data or metadata to the Science Explorer,” said USGS scientist Jessica Lucido. 

The interactive SiGL mapper is a centralized place where researchers and managers can identify relevant scientific activities and access fundamental information about these efforts. It was designed to help coordinate all of the scientific projects in the Great Lakes Basin. SiGL captures information about any type of scientific activity and provides details on how to access the data and results from those projects. 

“SiGL can help researchers and managers strategically plan, implement and analyze their monitoring and restoration activities,” said Jennifer Bruce, a USGS scientist. “We hope to encourage coordination and collaboration among all organizations throughout the Great Lakes Basin with this tool.”

SiGL contains over 250 projects and 10,500 sites, including all the USGS GLRI projects in the Science Explorer. Over 65 organizations have contributed to SiGL, including federal, state and local governments and agencies, tribes, universities and non-profit organizations. It provides information about general project details, specific sampling efforts, publications, data availability and access and contact information. 

For more information about these and other USGS GLRI tools, please visit the USGS GLRI website

The GLRI accelerates efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes, the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. It targets the most significant problems in the region, including invasive aquatic species, pollution and contaminated sediment. 

DOI and USGS link policies apply.

New Kupferschiefer Copper Assessment Available

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 14:00
Summary: In cooperation with the Polish Geological Institute — National Research Institute, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have published a new assessment of copper resources in Poland and Germany. This investigation is part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Global Mineral Resource Assessment

Contact Information:

Mike Zientek ( Phone: 509-368-3105 ); Leslie  Gordon ( Phone: 650-329-4006
 );



SPOKANE, Wash. — In cooperation with the Polish Geological Institute — National Research Institute, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have published a new assessment of copper resources in Poland and Germany. This investigation is part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Global Mineral Resource Assessment. The study synthesizes available information on known resources and estimates the location and quantity of undiscovered copper associated with the well-known late Permian (approximately 255 million years old), carbon-enriched shale, the Kupferschiefer, of the Southern Permian Basin in Europe.

The ore deposits associated with the Kupferschiefer in Germany and Poland have been mined for over 800 years and are world-famous among geologists because research on these deposits played a significant role in the scientific debates on ore genesis. The largest Kupferschiefer copper deposit occurs in the Lubin-Sieroszowice mining area, Poland. It is the largest copper deposit in Europe and one of the largest copper deposits on the Earth.

Most of the known copper resource and almost all of the estimated undiscovered copper resources occur in southwestern Poland and adjacent parts of eastern Germany. Since 1958, about 15 million metric tons of copper have been produced, and about 30 million metric tons of discovered copper remains to be developed. The USGS estimates a mean value of 110 million metric tons of copper may be undiscovered to a depth of 2.5 km below the surface in this area. Most of the undiscovered resource in southwestern Poland would be deeper than 1.5 km, where virgin rock temperatures exceed 50 degrees C (122 degrees F).

In 800 years of mining, about 2.6 million metric tons of copper were produced from Kupferschiefer deposits in east-central Germany. The areas near the deposits in east-central Germany have been well explored; less than one million metric tons of discovered copper remain in identified deposits. Mean undiscovered copper estimates for this area are about 20 million metric tons.

This USGS study supports previous findings by the Polish Geological Institute for the amount of undiscovered copper in Poland. Mean values from the USGS study are remarkably similar to the values estimated by Polish geologists. The USGS study differs from the Polish study in that two different methods are used to probabilistically estimate the amount of undiscovered copper and maps are included to show where undiscovered resources are likely to occur.

The full report, USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5090–U, “Assessment of undiscovered copper resources associated with the Permian Kupferschiefer, Southern Permian Basin, Europe,” by Michael Zientek and others, is available online.

Additional USGS mineral resource assessment results and reports, including previous volumes of this publication series, and an estimate of undiscovered copper resource of the world in 2013, are online.

USGS Groundwater Toolbox: A New Way to Analyze Hydrologic Data

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 12:12
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has released a convenient and informative new method for the analysis of groundwater and surface-water hydrologic data called the Groundwater (GW) Toolbox. The GIS-driven graphical and mapping interface is a significant advancement in USGS software f

Contact Information:

Paul Barlow ( Phone: 508-490-5070 ); Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 );



The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has released a convenient and informative new method for the analysis of groundwater and surface-water hydrologic data called the Groundwater (GW) Toolbox. The GIS-driven graphical and mapping interface is a significant advancement in USGS software for estimating base flow (the groundwater-discharge component of streamflow), surface runoff, and groundwater recharge from streamflow data. 

The GW Toolbox brings together several analysis methods previously developed by the USGS and Bureau of Reclamation. Each of the methods included with the GW Toolbox use daily streamflow data automatically retrieved from the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS) for more than 26,000 streamgage sites across the United States. In addition to streamflow data, the GW Toolbox facilitates the retrieval of groundwater-level and precipitation time-series data from the NWIS database. 

The GW Toolbox will be of use to engineers, academia, and government agencies at all levels for the analysis of many of the water-budget components of a typical watershed. The intensively visual interface will help shed light on water availability and hydrologic trends in response to climate and land-use changes and variability in these watersheds.

 The GW Toolbox runs in a Microsoft Windows environment and includes the Base Flow Index (BFI), HYSEP, and PART hydrograph-separation methods to estimate base flow and surface runoff and the RORA and RECESS methods to estimate groundwater recharge. 

The GW Toolbox is available from the USGS at no cost. The documentation report also is available online from the USGS.

Advances in Dating Groundwater

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 10:40
Summary: Groundwater chemists and hydrologists are keenly interested in expanding the knowledge of environmental tracers that can be used to determine groundwater age. The age of groundwater is a valuable parameter that serves to inform many types of groundwater availability studies.

Contact Information:

Jon Campbell ( Phone: 703-648-4180 ); Karl Haase ( Phone: 703-648-5818 );



Groundwater chemists and hydrologists are keenly interested in expanding the knowledge of environmental tracers that can be used to determine groundwater age. The age of groundwater is a valuable parameter that serves to inform many types of groundwater availability studies.

Many environmental tracers — such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), SF6, and tritium — are of atmospheric origin. However, there are several classes of atmospheric trace gases whose application as groundwater age tracers have not been fully explored. Hydrofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HFCs and HCFCs) are among them.

USGS scientists have recently developed a high-sensitivity technique to measure two of these compounds (HCFC-22 and HFC-134a) in groundwater and the unsaturated zone.

The investigators found that, contrary to many simpler laboratory studies, these compounds can be degraded by bacteria in the environment. Consequently, both classes of compound (HFCs and HCFCs) are not likely to be useful for dating groundwater. Since they are depleted in the unsaturated zone, this reduction implies a weak environmental sink (a few percent or less) that has not been previously discussed.

The study by USGS hydrologists Haase, Busenberg, Plummer, Casile, and Sanford has been published in the journal Chemical Geology.

Learn more

Professional paper

USGS Groundwater Dating Lab

USGS Groundwater Information

USGS Amps up Environmental DNA Research With New DNA Machine

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 11:26
Summary: GAINESVILLE, Fla.—The U.S. Geological Survey Southeast Ecological Science Center has acquired a state-of-the-art genetic analysis machine that will help advance environmental DNA research efforts. The use of environmental DNA, or eDNA, could assist resource managers nationwide conserve imperiled species and improve control efforts of invasive species.

Contact Information:

Margaret Hunter ( Phone: 352-264-3484 ); Kaitlin  Kovacs ( Phone: 352-264-3578 );



GAINESVILLE, Fla.—The U.S. Geological Survey Southeast Ecological Science Center has acquired a state-of-the-art genetic analysis machine that will help advance environmental DNA research efforts. The use of environmental DNA, or eDNA, could assist resource managers nationwide conserve imperiled species and improve control efforts of invasive species.

The new technology, a droplet digital PCR machine, is the first of its kind to be acquired by a USGS facility. The machine can detect a single molecule of DNA from an environmental sample and enhances output compared to traditional methods. From water samples, it is possible to detect rare species or those that are difficult to observe due to secretive behavior, camouflaged coloration, or a resemblance to other species. Species identification via the detection of eDNA can make the physical capture or sighting of the target species unnecessary.

“This new platform allows us to process samples efficiently and with greater precision. With just a few copies of genetic material from the aquatic environment, we can detect the presence of an animal that may not otherwise be seen,” commented USGS research geneticist Margaret Hunter, who leads the SESC Conservation Genetics Laboratory.

Environmental DNA comes from organisms shedding biological material into the aquatic environment via feces, mucus, saliva, or skin cells.  This material can be used to determine the presence of species, establish range limits, and estimate occupancy and detection probabilities to inform management actions. The environmental DNA exists for approximately 20 days before it degrades, allowing researchers to detect animals, such as pythons, manatees, or Grass Carp, as they move throughout the environment.  As compared to traditional laboratory techniques, ddPCR reduces time and laboratory costs, and uses more rigorous statistical analyses to determine the number of DNA copies in a sample. While both techniques can detect and count molecules of DNA, ddPCR has been shown to enhance accuracy and precision. 

To detect individual species, genetic researchers first design a species-specific genetic marker. Then filtered surface water samples are split into 20,000 PCR droplets, each containing the marker and, if present, a copy of the target species’ DNA. The droplets illuminate fluorescently if DNA of the targeted species is detected, with the number of illuminated droplets corresponding to the number of DNA molecules in the sample.  Assessing the 20,000 droplets for positive detection of the species takes approximately two minutes.

“This technology can provide resource managers invaluable assistance in detecting and defining the habitat of imperiled and invasive species,” Hunter said. “For example, using eDNA and ddPCR can help to better delineate the spread of Burmese pythons in south Florida. Or, the habitat used by imperiled or rare species, such as elusive West Indian manatees, could be defined for research and conservation efforts.”

For more information:

http://fl.biology.usgs.gov/genetics/index.html (SESC Genetics Website)

http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2012/3017/ (Fact Sheet: Using Genetic Research to Inform Imperiled and Invasive Species Management)

Update - USGS Lidar Base Specification Version 1.2

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 10:00
Summary: The US Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is pleased to announce a new version of the USGS Lidar Base Specification that defines deliverables for nationally consistent lidar data acquisitions

Contact Information:

Allyson Jason ( Phone: 703-648-4572 ); Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 );



Reference: Heidemann, Hans Karl, 2014, Lidar Base Specification (ver. 1.2, November 2014): U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods, book 11, chap. B4, 67 p. with appendixes.

The US Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is pleased to announce a new version of the USGS Lidar Base Specification that defines deliverables for nationally consistent lidar data acquisitions. The USGS Lidar Base Specification provides a common base specification for all lidar data acquired for the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) component of The National Map. The primary goal of 3DEP is to systematically collect nationwide 3D elevation data in an 8-year period.

“Because we are acquiring data nationally for 3DEP with many partners, we need to have a way to ensure all of our requirements are being met, while minimizing the potential for problems with interoperability between various disparate data collections,” said Jason Stoker, Elevation Product and Services Lead for the USGS National Geospatial Program. “The USGS Lidar Base Specification helps everyone understand exactly what data we need and exactly how we need it, so we can be as efficient as possible.  This new version incorporates many of the lessons we have learned since putting together version 1.0, and sets the stage for future quality 3DEP data collections.”

Originally released as a draft in 2010 and formally published in 2012, the USGS–NGP Lidar Base Specification Version 1.0 was quickly embraced as the foundation for numerous state, county, and foreign country lidar specifications. Lidar is a fast-evolving technology, and much has changed in the industry since the final draft of the Lidar Base Specification Version 1.0 was written.

Lidar data have improved in accuracy and spatial resolution, geospatial accuracy standards have been revised by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), industry standard file formats have been expanded, additional applications for lidar have become accepted, and the need for interoperable data across collections has been realized. This revision to the Lidar Base Specification, known as Version 1.2, addresses those changes and provides continued guidance towards a nationally consistent lidar dataset. 

Update - USGS Lidar Base Specification Version 1.2

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 10:00
Summary: The US Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is pleased to announce a new version of the USGS Lidar Base Specification that defines deliverables for nationally consistent lidar data acquisitions

Contact Information:

Allyson Jason ( Phone: 703-648-4572 ); Mark Newell, APR ( Phone: 573-308-3850 );



Reference: Heidemann, Hans Karl, 2014, Lidar Base Specification (ver. 1.2, November 2014): U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods, book 11, chap. B4, 67 p. with appendixes.

The US Geological Survey National Geospatial Program is pleased to announce a new version of the USGS Lidar Base Specification that defines deliverables for nationally consistent lidar data acquisitions. The USGS Lidar Base Specification provides a common base specification for all lidar data acquired for the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) component of The National Map. The primary goal of 3DEP is to systematically collect nationwide 3D elevation data in an 8-year period.

“Because we are acquiring data nationally for 3DEP with many partners, we need to have a way to ensure all of our requirements are being met, while minimizing the potential for problems with interoperability between various disparate data collections,” said Jason Stoker, Elevation Product and Services Lead for the USGS National Geospatial Program. “The USGS Lidar Base Specification helps everyone understand exactly what data we need and exactly how we need it, so we can be as efficient as possible.  This new version incorporates many of the lessons we have learned since putting together version 1.0, and sets the stage for future quality 3DEP data collections.”

Originally released as a draft in 2010 and formally published in 2012, the USGS–NGP Lidar Base Specification Version 1.0 was quickly embraced as the foundation for numerous state, county, and foreign country lidar specifications. Lidar is a fast-evolving technology, and much has changed in the industry since the final draft of the Lidar Base Specification Version 1.0 was written.

Lidar data have improved in accuracy and spatial resolution, geospatial accuracy standards have been revised by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), industry standard file formats have been expanded, additional applications for lidar have become accepted, and the need for interoperable data across collections has been realized. This revision to the Lidar Base Specification, known as Version 1.2, addresses those changes and provides continued guidance towards a nationally consistent lidar dataset. 

Review of Minimum and Maximum Conservation Buffer Distance Estimates for Greater Sage-Grouse and Land-Use Activities

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 10:00
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey released a report today that compiles and summarizes published scientific studies that evaluate effective conservation buffer distances from human activities and infrastructure that influence greater sage-grouse populations

Contact Information:

A.B.  Wade ( Phone: 703-648-4483 ); Carol Schuler ( Phone: 541-750-1031 );



The full report is available online.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a report today that compiles and summarizes published scientific studies that evaluate effective conservation buffer distances from human activities and infrastructure that influence greater sage-grouse populations.

Greater sage-grouse conservation buffers are specified protective distances around greater sage-grouse communal breeding locations, known as leks.

The report, prepared at the request of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, can help decision makers establish buffer distances for use in conservation measures for greater sage-grouse habitat.  BLM requested the report because across the 11-state range of the greater sage-grouse a wide variety of buffer distances and supporting scientific literature have been posed as appropriate for providing protections for the species.

“This report should help DOI and others as they make or refine decisions and implement conservation actions for this species,” said Carol Schuler, USGS senior science advisor for ecosystems.

USGS scientists reviewed, compiled and summarized the findings of numerous previously published USGS and non-USGS scientific studies that evaluated the influence of human activities and infrastructure on greater sage-grouse populations. The report is organized into six sections representing these different land uses or human activities typically found in land-use plans:

  • cumulative surface disturbances;
  • linear features such as active roads and highways and pipelines;
  • oil, gas, wind and solar energy development;
  • tall structures such as electrical, communication and meteorological towers;
  • low structures such as fences and buildings; and
  • activities that don’t involve habitat loss, such as noise and related disruptions. 

The buffer distances in the report reflect a radius around lek locations. Although lek sites are breeding habitats, the report’s authors emphasized that designating protective buffers around these area offer “a consistent and practical solution for identifying and conserving seasonal habitat requirements by greater sage-grouse throughout their life cycle.”

The authors noted that because of variation in populations, habitats, development patterns, social context, and other factors that for a particular disturbance type there is no single number that is an appropriate buffer distance for all populations and habitats across the greater sage-grouse range.

The buffer distance estimates in this report can be useful in developing conservation measures,” said Schuler, “but should be used in conjunction with conservation planning that considers other factors such as local and regional conditions, habitat quality, and the cumulative impact of a suite of conservation and management actions.”

The report shows lek buffer minimum and maximum distance estimates suggested in the scientific literature as well as possible minimum and maximum conservation buffer distances developed by the team of expert scientists who reviewed and synthesized the literature.

The scientific literature indicates that, in some populations, 90-95 percent of sage-grouse movements are within 5 miles (8 km) of lek sites, and that most females nest within about 3.1 miles (5 km) of the lek, suggesting considerable protection of sage-grouse could be achieved using protective measures within these generalized conservation buffer distances.  Consequently, the ranges USGS experts assessed for lower and upper buffer distance limits fall within the 3.1-5 mile radius of leks for surface disturbance, linear features, and energy development categories. The buffer distances suggested for the other 3 categories are smaller.

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.

Review of Minimum and Maximum Conservation Buffer Distance Estimates for Greater Sage-Grouse and Land-Use Activities

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 10:00
Summary: The U.S. Geological Survey released a report today that compiles and summarizes published scientific studies that evaluate effective conservation buffer distances from human activities and infrastructure that influence greater sage-grouse populations

Contact Information:

A.B.  Wade ( Phone: 703-648-4483 ); Carol Schuler ( Phone: 541-750-1031 );



The full report is available online.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a report today that compiles and summarizes published scientific studies that evaluate effective conservation buffer distances from human activities and infrastructure that influence greater sage-grouse populations.

Greater sage-grouse conservation buffers are specified protective distances around greater sage-grouse communal breeding locations, known as leks.

The report, prepared at the request of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, can help decision makers establish buffer distances for use in conservation measures for greater sage-grouse habitat.  BLM requested the report because across the 11-state range of the greater sage-grouse a wide variety of buffer distances and supporting scientific literature have been posed as appropriate for providing protections for the species.

“This report should help DOI and others as they make or refine decisions and implement conservation actions for this species,” said Carol Schuler, USGS senior science advisor for ecosystems.

USGS scientists reviewed, compiled and summarized the findings of numerous previously published USGS and non-USGS scientific studies that evaluated the influence of human activities and infrastructure on greater sage-grouse populations. The report is organized into six sections representing these different land uses or human activities typically found in land-use plans:

  • cumulative surface disturbances;
  • linear features such as active roads and highways and pipelines;
  • oil, gas, wind and solar energy development;
  • tall structures such as electrical, communication and meteorological towers;
  • low structures such as fences and buildings; and
  • activities that don’t involve habitat loss, such as noise and related disruptions. 

The buffer distances in the report reflect a radius around lek locations. Although lek sites are breeding habitats, the report’s authors emphasized that designating protective buffers around these area offer “a consistent and practical solution for identifying and conserving seasonal habitat requirements by greater sage-grouse throughout their life cycle.”

The authors noted that because of variation in populations, habitats, development patterns, social context, and other factors that for a particular disturbance type there is no single number that is an appropriate buffer distance for all populations and habitats across the greater sage-grouse range.

The buffer distance estimates in this report can be useful in developing conservation measures,” said Schuler, “but should be used in conjunction with conservation planning that considers other factors such as local and regional conditions, habitat quality, and the cumulative impact of a suite of conservation and management actions.”

The report shows lek buffer minimum and maximum distance estimates suggested in the scientific literature as well as possible minimum and maximum conservation buffer distances developed by the team of expert scientists who reviewed and synthesized the literature.

The scientific literature indicates that, in some populations, 90-95 percent of sage-grouse movements are within 5 miles (8 km) of lek sites, and that most females nest within about 3.1 miles (5 km) of the lek, suggesting considerable protection of sage-grouse could be achieved using protective measures within these generalized conservation buffer distances.  Consequently, the ranges USGS experts assessed for lower and upper buffer distance limits fall within the 3.1-5 mile radius of leks for surface disturbance, linear features, and energy development categories. The buffer distances suggested for the other 3 categories are smaller.

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.