Matthew J. Butler, Ph.D.

Biometrician/Wildlife Biologist
Regional Office – Albuquerque, NM
Phone: 505-248-6629
Email: matthew_butler at fws.gov

“Wildlife Management is not about an individual member of the population but the population since the population is the renewable natural resource.”

Current Projects:

Forecasting the Abundance of Whooping Cranes Overwintering Along the Texas Coast:  Since 1938, the whooping crane (Grus Americana) population has been “censused” on their wintering grounds which are on and around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  Though data are not truly a census but the maximum number of whooping cranes observed each winter, valuable insight into whooping crane population dynamics can be obtained from these data such as average annual growth rate, typical range of annual growth rates, and cyclic patterns in population trajectories.  These data will be used in autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) models to forecast future abundance and determine extinction probability.  Further, these data will be used to evaluate the impacts of unusual, sustained declines in growth rate on population trajectories.  For example, census data from the winter of 2008–2009 indicated it was “bad year” for whooping cranes along the Texas coast.  Simulation of such “bad years” for varying periods of time will help managers understand the potential resilience of the whooping crane population and inform management decisions.

Adult whooping crane foraging at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (M. Butler; March 1, 2012).

Understanding the Relationships between Whooping Crane Population Growth Rates and Environmental Conditions: The objective of this project is to examine the relationships between whooping crane population growth rates and freshwater inflows, salinity levels, drought, red tide, and climatic and solar cycles.  If environmental or climatic influences are indicated, years of poor population growth may be predicted prior to whooping crane arrival on their wintering grounds allowing management intervention if warranted.  Information from this project will help managers and the whooping crane recovery team develop adaptive management strategies and provide data for structured decision making.

Revision and Improvement of Whooping Crane Aerial Survey Techniques: The goal of this project is to develop a standardized, robust technique that estimates whooping crane abundance on the wintering grounds.  Standardization of the technique will reduce “protocol creep” as time passes, ease biases introduced by changes is observers through time, and provide a defensible monitoring protocol.

Photo of a bull elk at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge taken with a camera-trap (June 17, 2011).

Using Camera Trapping to Monitor Wildlife Populations without Marked Individuals (Rare and Elusive Species): A National I&M objective is to develop useful monitoring techniques for animal species.  Though many monitoring techniques exist, few are robust enough for monitoring rare and elusive species.  Many techniques only provide information about presence-absence or occupancy probabilities.  Monitoring abundance or density can be more useful for management activities but many abundance techniques are reliant on marked animals.  However, capture and tagging can be quite expensive.  Camera-trapping has been used extensively for many rare and elusive species but it is often unclear if results reflect population trends.  A new suite of models based on site occupancy and hierarchical modeling are available that can be used to estimate abundance from repeated count data.  We are using elk (Cervus elaphus) at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge to test these new models.  New Mexico Department of Game and Fish were capturing and immobilizing elk for CWD testing during the winter of 2010-2011 which afford us an excellent opportunity to tag and radio-collar elk for use as a model species.  This allows us to implement tried and true techniques such as mark-resight and distance sampling for comparison with the new models.

Survival, Habitat Use, and Movement Patterns of Elk at Bosque del Apache NWR: Elk abundance has recently increased at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge’s primary management objective is to provide habitat and food for waterfowl and sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) that overwinter at the Refuge or use it during their migration.  To provide an adequate amount of nutrition for the birds, corn fields are planted on the Refuge.  Elk are believed to be depredating the corn crops, thereby interrupting the Refuge’s management strategy.  The objectives of this study are to investigate elk movement patterns, habitat use, survival, and depredation of corn by elk.  To examine these factors, we are marking and tracking adult elk with radio- or GPS-collars.  We will monitor collared elk into November 2013 to estimate cause-specific mortality rates, their habitat preferences, and their seasonal and temporal movement patterns.  We will also estimate crop damage due to elk and recruitment rates of elk calves into the adult population.  Refuge staff will use results of this study to adjust their management practices and establish a harvest plan to manage elk abundance.  The intended outcome will be to minimize the amount of crop damage by elk on the Refuge.  This project has brought together U.S. Fish and Wildlife, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Texas Tech University, and USGS personnel to help manage the elk herd of the Middle Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico.  Agency partnerships are integral to conservation success.

Additional Projects:

  • Analysis of Long-term Overwinter Bird Banding Data from San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.
  • Implementation of road-based distance sampling for monitoring deer (Odocoileus spp.) abundance on National Wildlife Refuges of the Southern Great Plains.
  • Revision and standardization of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis Canadensis Mexicana) survey techniques in the San Andres Mountains of New Mexico.
  • Lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) lek density and spatial distribution in relation to landscape characteristics in Texas.

Education:
Ph.D., 2006, Texas Tech University, Wildlife Science
M.S., 2001, University of Arkansas­–Monticello, Forest Resources (Wildlife Ecology)
B.S., 1999, Arkansas Tech University, Fisheries and Wildlife Biology

Scientific Interests:

distance sampling, population ecology and dynamics, wildlife demography, Galiform ecology and management, wildlife survey/monitoring techniques, avian ecology and management, wind energy

Previous Position:

Prior to coming to work for the National Wildlife Refuge System, I served as a Research Assistant Professor in the Department Natural Resources Management at Texas Tech University.

Publications:

Strobel, B. N., and M. J. Butler.  2014.  Monitoring whooping crane abundance using aerial surveys: influences on detectability.  Wildlife Society Bulletin 38(1):188–195.getpdf

Timmer, J. M., M. J. Butler, W. B. Ballard, C. W. Boal, and H. A. Whitlaw.  2014.  Spatially explicit modeling of lesser prairie-chicken lek density in Texas.  Journal of Wildlife Management 78(1):142–152.get pdf

Butler, M. J., G. Harris, and B. N. Strobel. 2013. Influence of whooping crane population dynamics on its recovery and management. Biological Conservation 162:89–99.get pdf

Harris, G., S. Farley, G. J. Russell, M. J. Butler, and J. Selinger.  2013.  Sampling designs matching species biology produce accurate and affordable abundance indices.  PeerJ 1:e227.get pdf

Timmer, J. M., M. J. Butler, W. B. Ballard, C. W. Boal, and H. A. Whitlaw.  2013.  Abundnace and density of lesser prairie-chickens and leks in Texas.  Wildlife Society Bulletin 37(4):741–749.get pdf

McKenzie-Dameron, S.L., M.C. Wallace, W.B. Ballard, M.J. Butler, D.C. Ruthven III, P. Alcumbrac, R.M. Swearingin, and R.N. Walker.  2012.  Survival, behavior, and physical effects of surgically implanted radiotransmitters on Rio Grande wild turkey poults.  National Wild Turkey Symposium Proceedings 10:111–118.get pdf

Swearingin, R.M., M.C. Wallace, W.B. Ballard, M.J. Butler, R.S. Phillips, R.N. Walker, S.L. McKenzie-Damron, and D.C. Ruthven III.  2012.  Chronology of Rio Grande wild turkey flocking behavior in the Texas Rolling Plains.  National Wild Turkey Symposium Proceedings 10:243–249.get pdf

Swearingin, R.M., M.J. Butler, W.B. Ballard, M.C. Wallace, R.S. Phillips, R.N. Walker, S.L. McKenzie-Damron, and D.C. Ruthven III.  2012.  Rio Grande wild turkey winter roost characteristics on the Texas Rolling Plains.  National Wild Turkey Symposium Proceedings 10:251–263.get pdf

Butler, M.J., B.A. Collier, R.D. Holt, W.B. Ballard, M.J. Peterson, N.J. Silvy, and M.C. Wallace. 2011. Retention of butt-end aluminum leg bands by wild turkeys. Journal of Wildlife Management 75(8):1807–1811.get pdf

Guthrie, J.D., M. Byrne, J.B. Hardin, C.O. Kochanny, K. Skow, T. Snelgrove, M.J. Butler, M.J. Peterson, M.J. Chamberlain, and B.A. Collier. 2011. Evaluation of a global positioning system backpack transmitter for wild turkey research. Journal of Wildlife Management 75(3):539–547.get pdf

McRoberts, J.T., M.J. Butler, W.B. Ballard, H.A. Whitlaw, D.A. Haukos, and M.C. Wallace. 2011. Detectability of lesser prairie-chicken leks: a comparison of surveys from aircraft. Journal of Wildlife Management 75(4):771–778.get pdf

McRoberts, J.T., M.J. Butler, W.B. Ballard, H.A. Whitlaw, D.A. Haukos, and M.C. Wallace. 2011. Behavioral response of lesser prairie-chickens on leks to aerial surveys. Wildlife Society Bulletin 35(1):27–31.get pdf

Butler, M.J., W.B. Ballard, R.D. Holt, and H.A. Whitlaw. 2010. Sound intensity of booming in lesser prairie-chickens. Journal of Wildlife Management 74(5):1160–1162.get pdf

Erxleben, D.R., M.J. Butler, W.B. Ballard, M.C. Wallace, M.J. Peterson, N.J. Silvy, W.P. Kuvlesky Jr., D.G. Hewitt, S.J. DeMaso, J.B. Hardin, and M.K. Dominguez-Brazil. 2011. Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) association to roads: implications for distance sampling. European Journal of Wildlife Research 57(1):57–65.get pdf

Erxleben, D.R., M.J. Butler, W.B. Ballard, M.C. Wallace, J.B. Hardin, and S.J. DeMaso. 2010. Encounter Rates from road-based surveys of Rio Grande wild turkeys in Texas. Journal of Wildlife Management 74(5):1134–1140.get pdf

Haskell, S.P., D.A. Butler, W.B. Ballard, M.J. Butler, M.C. Wallace, and M.H. Humphrey.  2010.  Deer density estimation in west-central Texas: old versus new ground techniques with mark-resight as a comparative baseline.  Pages 30–47 in B.E. Watkins, editor.  Proceedings of the 7th Western States and Provinces Deer and Elk Workshop–2007.  Colorado Division of Wildlife, Denver, USA.get pdf

Holt, R.D., M.J. Butler, W.B. Ballard, C.A. Kukal, and H.A. Whitlaw. 2010. Disturbance of lekking lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) by ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus). Western North American Naturalist 70(2):241–244.get pdf

McRoberts, J.T., W.B. Ballard, M.J. Butler, H.A. Whitlaw, K. Boydston, and A.H. Swift. 2009. Lesser prairie chicken conservation and wind development in the Texas Panhandle: a case for proactive wildlife management. Pages 74–76 in S. Savitt Schwartz, editor. Proceedings of the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative Wind Wildlife Research Meeting VII. October 28–29, 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.get pdf

Butler, M.J., and P.A. Tappe. 2008. Relationships of red-cockaded woodpecker reproduction and foraging habitat characteristics in Arkansas and Louisiana. European Journal of Wildlife Research 54(4):601–608.get pdf

Butler, M.J., W.B. Ballard, M.C. Wallace, and S.J. DeMaso. 2008. Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) detectability from helicopters and ramifications for estimating abundance. European Journal of Wildlife Research 54(1):148–152.get pdf

Brunjes, J.H., IV, W.B. Ballard, M.C. Wallace, R.S. Phillips, D.P. Holdstock, B.L. Spears, M.J. Butler, M.S. Miller, N.E. McIntyre, S.J. DeMaso, R.D. Applegate, and P.S. Gipson.  2007.  Patterns of capture-related mortality in Rio Grande wild turkeys.  National Wild Turkey Symposium Proceedings 9:75–81.get pdf

Butler, M.J., W.B. Ballard, M.C. Wallace, and S.J. DeMaso. 2007. Road-based surveys for estimating wild turkey density in the Texas Rolling Plains. Journal of Wildlife Management 71(5):1646–1653.get pdf

Butler, M.J., W.B. Ballard, M.C. Wallace, S.J. DeMaso, and B.K. McGee. 2007. Aerial surveys for estimating wild turkey abundance in the Texas Rolling Plains. Journal of Wildlife Management 71(5):1639–1645.get pdf

Butler, M.J., G.I. Hall, W.B. Ballard, M.C. Wallace, R.S. Phillips, J.H. Brunjes, R.T. Huffman, R.L. Houchin, J.C. Bullock, S.J. DeMaso, R.D. Applegate, and M.C. Frisbie.  2007.  Utility of poult-hen counts to index productivity of Rio Grande wild turkeys.  National Wild Turkey Symposium Proceedings 9:159–168.get pdf

Hall, G.I., M.C. Wallace, W.B. Ballard, D.C. Ruthven III, M.J. Butler, R.L. Houchin, R.T. Huffman, R.S. Phillips, and R.D. Applegate. 2007. Rio Grande wild turkey habitat selection in the Southern Great Plains. Journal of Wildlife Management 71(8):2583–2591.get pdf

Butler, M.J., W.B. Ballard, M.C. Wallace, S.J. DeMaso, and R.D. Applegate.  2006.  Comparing techniques for counting Rio Grande wild turkeys at winter roosts.  Pages 112–117 in J.W. Cain III and P.R. Krausman, editors.  Managing wildlife in the southwest: new challenges for the 21st century.  The Southwest Section of The Wildlife Society, 9–11 August 2005, Alpine, Texas, USA.get pdf

Butler, M.J., W.B. Ballard, and H.A. Whitlaw. 2006. Physical characteristics, hematology, and serum chemistry of free-ranging gray wolves in south-central Alaska. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 120(2):205–212.get pdf

Hall, G.I., M.J. Butler, M.C. Wallace, W.B. Ballard, D.C. Ruthven III, R.L. Houchin, R.T. Huffman, R.S. Phillips, and R.D. Applegate.  2006.  Rio Grande wild turkey home ranges in the Southern Great Plains.  Proceedings of the Annual Conference of Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 60:36–42.get pdf

McGee, B.K., M.J. Butler, D.B. Pence, J.L. Alexander, J.B. Nissen, W.B. Ballard, and K.L. Nicholson. 2006. Possible vector dissemination by swift foxes following a plague epizootic in black-tailed prairie dogs in northwestern Texas. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 42(2):415–420.get pdf

McGee, B.K., K.L. Nicholson, W.B. Ballard, and M.J. Butler. 2006. Characteristics of swift fox dens in northwest Texas. Western North American Naturalist 66(2):239–245.get pdf

Butler, M.J., M.C. Wallace, W.B. Ballard, S.J. DeMaso, and R.D. Applegate. 2005. From the field: the relationship of Rio Grande wild turkey distributions to roads. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33(2):745–748.get pdf

McGee, B.K., M.J. Butler, M.C. Wallace, W.B. Ballard, and K.L. Nicholson. 2005. From the field: a comparison of survey techniques for swift fox pups. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33(3):1169–1173.get pdf

Butler, M.J., A.P. Teaschner, W.B. Ballard, and B.K. McGee. 2005. Wildlife ranching in North America: arguments, issues, and perspectives. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33(1):381–389.get pdf

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