Wildlife biologists are often required to make management decisions based on limited data.

For example, is there a need to protect fisher populations in northern Idaho?

As you can imagine, it’s tough to make a decision about such a basic management question if you don’t know how healthy the populations are.

That’s why two biologists from Idaho Department of Fish and Game set out to answer the basic question, “What’s out there?”

What began as a small cooperative effort between Idaho Fish and Game and NGOs to monitor a limited number of sites for the presence of wolverine, morphed into a five-year effort to detect nearly 200 species of forest carnivores, amphibians, and gastropods across the entire Idaho Panhandle.

Michael Lucid and Lacy Robinson secured a $1 million grant to implement the Multi-Species Baseline Initiative or “MBI”. They divided the entire Idaho Panhandle into 5 x 5 kilometer grids. Each cell or grid was surveyed for the target species. Climate loggers-devices that track and record the temperature every 90 minutes-were also placed in many of these cells in order to establish a surface temperature map, from which scientists can measure the local effects of climate change.

Michael and Lacy enlisted the help of other agencies, tribes and NGOs to pull it off. Last night they presented the results of the five-year effort to an interested audience in Sandpoint.

I was most surprised to learn that the richness of species, or the number of species present in the Coeur d’Alene Basin is low, relative to other landscapes in northern Idaho.

While Idaho Fish and Game biologists couldn’t answer why-the study didn’t investigate causes for the current status or distribution of species-I can speculate. There is an extensive history of logging and mining in the Coeur d’Alene Basin, and I don’t think that the landscape has fully healed from the injuries of the past.

Whatever the cause may be, we at least have a baseline that represents the current status and distribution of some 200 species across the study area. This will enable biologists to measure changes in the status and distribution of these species over time and make informed management decisions.

I also think it will help biologist prioritize where to restore habitat, with the ultimate goal of recovering wildlife populations.

The MBI was an epic undertaking. I applaud Michael and Lacy for their outstanding work.