Management decision making for fisher populations informed by occupancy modeling

Journal of Wildlife Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

Harvest data are often used by wildlife managers when setting harvest regulations for species because the data are regularly collected and do not require implementation of logistically and financially challenging studies to obtain the data. However, when harvest data are not available because an area had not previously supported a harvest season, alternative approaches are required to help inform management decision making. When distribution or density data are required across large areas, occupancy modeling is a useful approach, and under certain conditions, can be used as a surrogate for density. We collaborated with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to conduct a camera trapping study across a 70,096-km2 region of southern New York in areas that were currently open to fisher (Pekania [Martespennanti) harvest and those that had been closed to harvest for approximately 65 years. We used detection–nondetection data at 826 sites to model occupancy as a function of site-level landscape characteristics while accounting for sampling variation. Fisher occupancy was influenced positively by the proportion of conifer and mixed-wood forest within a 15-km2 grid cell and negatively associated with road density and the proportion of agriculture. Model-averaged predictions indicated high occupancy probabilities (>0.90) when road densities were low (<1 km/km2) and coniferous and mixed forest proportions were high (>0.50). Predicted occupancy ranged 0.41–0.67 in wildlife management units (WMUs) currently open to trapping, which could be used to guide a minimum occupancy threshold for opening new areas to trapping seasons. There were 5 WMUs that had been closed to trapping but had an average predicted occupancy of 0.52 (0.07 SE), and above the threshold of 0.41. These areas are currently under consideration by NYSDEC for opening a conservative harvest season. We demonstrate the use of occupancy modeling as an aid to management decision making when harvest-related data are unavailable and when budgetary constraints do not allow for capture–recapture studies to directly estimate density.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Management decision making for fisher populations informed by occupancy modeling
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21077
Volume 80
Issue 5
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher The Wildlife Society
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Leetown
Description 9 p.
First page 794
Last page 802
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N