Research continues at Bosque del Apache

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At Bosque del Apache over 30 different research projects are taking place at any given time. From an ongoing study on mountain lions to a weekly waterfowl survey, the bosque provides a perfect environment to study the natural world.
Ashley Inslee, refuge biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visited with the Socorro Rotary Club last week to update them on some of the projects.  Specifically she talked about two new projects and two ongoing ones, one of which is the mountain lion project.
The mountain lion project led by Dr. Travis Perry, Inslee said, is winding down. It originally involved fived collared animals and now has only one collared female still in the area.
“We have gotten an incredible amount of data,” Inslee said.
The Bosque del Apache mountain lion population tends to stay in the area except for juvenile males who wander, she said. And the study has shown, through those wanderers, that the animals have an affinity to the habitat they are raised in. The animals may head for the mountains and spend some time there but they tend to return to bosque habitats along the Rio Grande.
Another thing the study has shown with its camera trap portion is that mountain lion movements are concentrated around high public use areas like the viewing decks.
“This is disturbing to us,” Inslee said. “These are top predators who belong in our food chain.”
The people involved in the project have been spraying tiger urine around some of the camera traps to see if that affects the big cats’ behavior.
If a visitor to the bosque sees a lion, she said, “Clap your hands, make noise, throw a rock at it.”
The project, Inslee said, has also shown that although mountain lions in the mountains tend to choose the elk and deer as prey, those in the bosque tend toward beaver and carp for sustenance, which is excellent for the environment. Although sometimes they certainly choose other things.
“A female and her kitten took out a collared elk,” Inslee said.  She said rarely do the cats choose oryx as prey, although there was one large male who took down three or four of them.
“He was a beast,” she said.
There is another study — being done by Ryan DeVore, graduate student at Texas Tech University — on the elk population at Bosque del Apache, Inslee said.
“Fifteen years ago it was rare to see elk,” she said. “Now there are from 100 to 200 elk in the area.”
DeVore has 31 of the elk collared with GPS and VHF collars, she said. The study has to do with habitat selection. He studies habitat use and movement patterns of the animals.
“For the most part they stay within the bosque,” Inslee said of the elk. Like the young male lions, it is the young male elk who disperse to the nearby Magdalena Mountains as they grow older.
The elk, Inslee said, are causing problems as they eat the nearby corn grown for the geese.
“We raise the corn to provide much needed energy for the geese as they arrive exhausted and depleted,” she said. “We are working with the state, hoping to figure out a sustainable population of elk. Right now there is too high of a population.”
In the next week or two there will be a paper and choices posted on the Bosque del Apache website where the public can offer public comment as to how to handle the elk problem in the area, Inslee said.
In another corn related research project, bosque personnel are looking at the birds’ distribution and reliance on corn. It’s being done through the use of stable isotopes, Inslee said.
“Do we need to keep doing this?” Inslee asked. “We want the cranes to forage and feed as naturally as possible.”
Yet another study involves the Mexican duck population, habitat selection and movement. The Mexican duck life cycle occurs completely in the Southwest, Inslee said.
“This is a species of concern for us,” she said. “It is really important we understand movement and what habitat is needed.”
Other studies taking place at Bosque del Apache refuge include plants, birds, mammals, geology, insects and fish.