Hoary Marmot, White-Tailed Ptarmigan And Pika Surveys In Northwest Montana

Scientific Disciplines
Biological Sciences - Terrestrial
Montana Fish Wildlife Parks
Marmota caligata
ochotona princeps
Volume 17, No. 1-4

Hoary marmot, white-tailed ptarmigan and pika surveys in 
Northwest montana
John Vore,* Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 490 N. Meridian, Kalispell, Montana 59901, jvore@
Chris Hammond, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 490 N. Meridian, Kalispell, Montana  59901, 
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has long done survey and inventory of game species 
and largely within the past few decades has expanded the staff and program necessary to 
monitor non-game species, too. However, to date there has been little work done on three 
alpine species likely to be adversely impacted by climate change: the hoary marmot (Marmota 
caligata), white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucurus) and pika (Ochotona princeps). Prior to 
the 2010 field season, Montana Natural Heritage Program had only 31 hoary marmot, eight 
white-tailed ptarmigan, and 62 pika observations for northwest Montana outside of Glacier 
National Park. We discuss the beginning of focused survey and inventory effort for these three 
species in northwest Montana that include searching historical narratives, reaching out to 
other agencies and backcountry users, developing a species identification guide and sighting 
log for free distribution, and on-the-ground surveys. On one 4-day backpacking trip we saw or 
saw sign of 17 marmots in five “colonies” or local areas, 20 pikas and one ptarmigan as well 
as several other species. In addition to the current survey and inventory work we are outlining 
future more in-depth work including structured systematic surveys, future monitoring, 
research on marmot genetics and colony relatedness across the species range in Montana, and 
potential partners. We also discuss some new and novel approaches such as winter helicopter 
surveys and fecal DNA analysis for ptarmigan.