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Institute Backs UW Researchers’ Noninvasive Sage Grouse Study

October 12, 2017
woman kneeling on the ground holding a feather
Beth Fitzpatrick, UW Ph.D. student, holds a feather from a sage grouse breeding ground. She is the leader of a project aimed at using noninvasive methods to study sage grouse. (Beth Fitzpatrick Photo)

A national animal welfare organization has recognized University of Wyoming researchers for their efforts to study sage grouse using noninvasive methods.

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) selected the UW research team -- headed by Beth Fitzpatrick, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, and the Program in Ecology -- as one of the 2017 winners of the institute’s Christine Stevens Wildlife Award.

Established in 2006, the Christine Stevens Wildlife Award provides grants of up to $10,000 to help fund studies on innovative and humane strategies for resolving wildlife conflicts and studying wildlife.

photos of Jeff Beck, Melanie Murphy and Aaron Pratt

“AWI offers its hearty congratulations to the recipients of this year’s grants. We are pleased to support these innovative projects to find more humane methods to prevent conflicts between wild animals and humans, and for the study of wildlife,” says Cathy Liss, president of AWI. “We are encouraged by the increasing advancements being made to address wildlife conflict issues and methodologies to study wildlife in a humane, forward-thinking, practical and publicly acceptable way and look forward to reporting on the outcomes of these projects in the future.”

Along with Fitzpatrick, UW researchers involved in the sage grouse research are graduate student Aaron Pratt and Associate Professors Jeff Beck and Melanie Murphy, all in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, and the Program in Ecology.

The research involves comparing the effectiveness of two research projects focused on sage grouse in Wyoming. One project included capture and radio-marking of grouse to better understand habitat selection, demographic rates and migration behavior in relation to bentonite mining. The other project focused on noninvasive collection of genetic samples at grouse breeding sites to predict gene flow in relation to volume and configuration of development in sagebrush-steppe habitat. The two projects’ study areas overlapped, allowing for a unique opportunity to test the effectiveness of using noninvasive genetic data for researching and monitoring sage grouse population biology -- typically conducted by capturing and collaring individuals.

“Due to an unprecedented effort by land managers, developers and biologists to conserve this species, continued research that assures use of biological information for future conservation efforts is pertinent,” Fitzpatrick says. “This project will guide researchers, biologists and policymakers on how to reduce invasive sampling techniques and use. And, it will provide a guide for noninvasive sampling designs for population monitoring and the environmental data needed to create monitoring and conservation planning tools.”

The Christine Stevens Wildlife Award is a grant program named in honor of AWI’s late founder and president for over 50 years, to honor her legacy and inspire a new generation of compassionate wildlife scientists, managers and advocates.

For more information about the Christine Stevens Wildlife Award and this year’s winners, visit

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