Badgers of Lamar Valley: Yellowstone National Park

9781490434346: Badgers of Lamar Valley: Yellowstone National Park
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Citizen naturalists documented badgers (Taxidea taxus) in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park from 2004 through 2012. Reports were collected by soliciting observers to enter their information on a poster housed in the Bunk House of the Lamar Buffalo Ranch and maintained by the camp manager of the Yellowstone Association Institute each year from May 1 to September 5. Observers provided information on date, location, number of animals, behavior and additional comments. Over 183 observers made 262 reports of 231 badgers at 176 locations. Each reporter was evaluated as to their ability to report sightings. Citizen naturalist evaluation suggested that observers were above average in knowledge and ability to observe and report sightings. This was, in part, due to the dedicated group of wolf watchers in Lamar Valley. Besides independent citizen scientists, observers were from 11 different organizations who are involved in natural history education. A transect of Lamar Valley was defined to cover 19 mi2 (24%) of the area. The viewscape includes a half km on each side of the main road, Slough Creek road and the trail by Lamar trailhead. Few badgers can enter this zone and not be observed, thus creating a long-term monitoring zone. Over nine years, reports varied from one to 50 badgers after parsing to remove duplicates. In 2006 only one badger was observed with a maximum observed of 50 in 2011. Badgers were observed from May 6 through September 14. Females with kits were observed from May 23 through July 24. Litters varied from 0 to 4 in a year with the average number of 2.75 kits per litter. There were 326 behavioral incidents reported. These were grouped into 11 primary behaviors including moving, security, digging, hunting, curiosity, swimming, parenting, playing, not moving, mating, and scent marking. Main behaviors were subdivided to elucidate actions taken by badgers. Two approaches were used to understand reports. First, the literal approach, categorized all reports by the words used by the observed. Second, the assigned approach, categorized behaviors according to our interpretation of the report. For example a literal report saying a badger was digging would be literally interpreted as digging but assigned to hunting as all digging in the assigned approach was assumed to be part of hunting. Comparison between the two approaches helped understand behaviors. A badger population crash in 2006 is consistent with a multi-host zootic outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV). Disease spread among carnivores including, coyotes, wolves, otter and badgers is suspected. It took three years to recover from the outbreak. Some behavior results include estimates of hunting success at less than 20% and security interactions with badgers, other quadrupedal species and humans. Badgers were observed in fights with coyotes and wolves with one fatality caused by coyotes and two by wolves. Badgers were observed “hunting” with coyotes on seven occasions with four interactions being negative to badgers. Results from naturalist reports relate to several management issues. We suggested that Yellowstone National Park assess badger populations and habitat effectiveness. The viewscape is suggested as a long-term method for monitoring the badger population. Numerical guidelines are suggested as potential alarms to population health issues such as disease outbreaks. Genetic studies would help elucidate potential isolation of the Lamar Population. Finally consideration should be given to future use of road construction to improve badger habitat.

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