Friday, July 1, 2011

Unmanned craft gathers sagebrush data

Survey to determine quality of rabbit habitat


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A small, unmanned craft flew over Blaine County yesterday on a test flight to assess its ability to sense the quality of sagebrush habitat.

The craft is called the Raven, and was launched by the U.S. Geological Survey to test the craft's capability to remotely sense both the cover and the temperatures of the county's sagebrush steppe.

The steppe is home to cherished Idaho species such as the greater sage grouse, but the craft is specifically being used to assess the quality of the steppe for pygmy rabbits.

Pygmy rabbits are the smallest species of rabbit in North America. The rabbits generally weigh no more than a pound and can fit into the palm of a hand.

Data from the flight will be used by researchers at the University of Idaho, Boise State University and Washington State University to determine whether the craft can be used to accurately map sagebrush habitat in the state. Data will be collected on vegetation cover, based on its color, and temperatures, by using thermal cameras.

The USGS is working with the BLM and the Federal Aviation Administration to make these flights possible.

A press release from the USGS said this was the first of several flights to assess habitat quality over the landscape.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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