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NASA snow data helps maintain nation's largest, oldest bison herd

this issue, requiring Yellowstone officials to move the animals off of private property, back onto public land, and sometimes capturing bison to prevent them from commingling with neighboring livestock.

"Our goal is to provide the latest snowpack information to park officials," said landscape dynamics expert Fred Watson, principal investigator of the project and an assistant professor of science and environmental policy at CSUMB. "Ecologists try to best understand how animal populations respond to the changing conditions of the landscape where they live. Snow is a very important factor in the livelihood of all wildlife species in the ecosystem, including the Yellowstone bison population," said Watson.

The release of captive bison is timed to ensure a higher likelihood the animals will remain in the park. Knowing when and where the snow will melt is key to whether the bison will stay within park boundaries. To better inform the management team, park officials use a model of snowpack dynamics developed by Watson and his staff to provide the most up-to-date projections on snowpack distribution throughout Yellowstone's winter range areas.

The snowpack model provides daily maps of snowpack depth and density throughout the Yellowstone landscape, in near-real time. It uses data from NASA's Landsat satellite to describe how the snowpack is influenced by patterns of vegetation, geothermal features, and wind. Daily measurements of precipitation and temperature from USDA Snowpack Telemetry system are used to drive the model through time.

"Bison have one of the longest migrations of any large mammal in the country. The fact that they are moving to low-elevation winter ranges outside the park is actually a sign of how successful our restoration efforts have been," said Rick Wallen, leader of the Park's Bison Ecology and Management team. "The modeling of snowpack conditions on winter ranges provides managers a measure of how quickly a snow
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Source:NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center


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