Zoo Boise awards The C of I $25,000 grant
2009. 10. 28.
CALDWELL – Biology Professor Eric Yensen has been awarded a $25,000 grant from Zoo Boise to develop protocols for reintroducing captive ground squirrels back into the wild. The grant is for one year and could be renewed.
The project will begin in spring 2010 and Yensen said students from The C of I would be involved, along with zoo volunteers. He expects he will hire a field assistant as well.
Ground squirrels are listed as a "species of concern" by the federal government and currently populations are low. Yensen said ground squirrels are often considered pests by farmers, but provide a valuable service to Idaho's rangelands.
"Think of ground squirrels as great big, furry earthworms," he said. "They dig burrows, which aerates, mixes and loosens soil and they fertilize. They increase the productivity of plants."
Yensen said that the population of ground squirrels is dwindling due to invasion of rangelands by exotic weeds and degraded habitat in the rangelands where they live.
"The quality of forage needs to improve," he said. "They need a high-quality diet in order to store enough fat for their eight months of hibernation."
Money for the grant comes from the Zoo Boise Conservation Fund. Three years ago, Zoo Boise became the first in the country to charge visitors a "conservation fee" on top of the daily admission or annual pass. Since then, the Zoo has funded 14 projects around the world totaling more than $300,000.
"We are a little zoo with big ideas," said Steve Burns, Zoo Boise director. "Now, when you come to the zoo, you not only see your favorite animals, you help ensure that future generations will also be able to see them."