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Nongame Birds, Small Mammals, Herptiles, Fishes:
Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 1995-1996


Public interest in nongame wildlife has been growing across the country, and conservation agencies now stress a broad-based approach to nongame species (Berkey et al. 1993), using management practices that go beyond single species to a total program encompassing communities of wildlife (Anderson and Robbins 1981).

Refuge and wildlife managers can find few resources to help them create or enhance such programs, however. Most literature on nongame species is on birds, the first to benefit from increased public concern (Szarro 1988). Much less is known about abundances or distributions of small mammals, fish, or reptiles. Yet many, if not all, nongame vertebrates play an integral part in the function of ecosystems (Gibbons 1988). Amphibian population dynamics and baseline data, for example, are virtually nonexistent, even though amphibians are ecologically indispensable components of nearly all freshwater and terrestrial habitats in North America (Bishop et al. 1994).

Consequently, while wildlife managers accept responsibility to conserve existing species and to maintain aesthetic values (Peterson 1980, Gibbons 1988), they find it difficult to acquire reliable data to manage these populations.

Associated with the lack of nongame vertebrate management information is the scarcity of biological surveys. Comprehensive inventories simply do not exist.

The first step in any management plan is the biological inventory. An inventory of species abundance by habitat types, successional patterns, and cultural features gives an indication of biological diversity (Scott et al. 1995) and consequently, a sense of the health of a system.

Inventories form the basis for evaluating species status. They have provided a wealth of basic knowledge which has led to the development of many ecological and evolutionary theories essential to research and effective management, and they are fundamental in understanding the complexity of biodiversity (Heyer et al. 1994).

Inventories which contain enough detail for effective management are available only for a small fraction of all land areas. Yet Bogan et al. (1988) believed that survey results are the "raw materials for making land management decisions," and the National Research Council (1994) has stated that effective, holistic ecosystem management requires knowledge of species biology, ecology, and distribution.

When biological surveys and inventories are completed, they can be combined with other methods, such as GAP Analysis (Scott et al. 1993), to assess conservation efforts for large land areas. These inventories also help state and federal agencies meet their management goals and budgets.

The only complete vertebrate inventory of any area in the northern Great Plains was conducted at Fort Niobrara and Valentine National Wildlife Refuges, Nebraska (Bogan 1995). Some recent partial vertebrate surveys include Waterfowl Production Areas in Minnesota (Niesar 1994), a mail survey to determine distributions of 42 mammal species in South Dakota (Blumberg 1993), and a list of the mammals of LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge, South Dakota (Wilhelm et al. 1981).

Biological surveys are nearly nonexistent for many South Dakota habitats, and distribution patterns of South Dakota mammals are poorly understood (Choate and Jones 1981). Complete vertebrate inventories for large, insular riverine ecosystems such as Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge (SLNWR) have never been conducted (Becker 1979).

The goal of this study was to conduct a nongame vertebrate survey at SLNWR by primary habitat types, with emphasis placed on nongame breeding birds and small mammals. Specific objectives were to determine:

  1. avian and mammalian species composition by primary habitat types with special emphasis on nongame/neotropical avian species and nongame small mammals,
  2. the presence of other vertebrate species (amphibians, reptiles, and fishes) by primary habitat type,
  3. present vertebrate biota occurrence, as compared to pre-1940 occurrence as found in the literature and other records or sources,
  4. significant changes in habitat and/or vegetation on SLNWR, based on current and historical literature and refuge files, and
  5. to make recommendations for preserving/enhancing populations of nongame vertebrate species on SLNWR.

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