Work under way to track Utah’s declining Golden Eagle population

SALT LAKE CITY – Efforts are under way to track Utah’s declining golden eagle population, which has been impacted by wildfires.

Dr. Steve Slater, conservation science director at Hawk Watch International, said his organization is attaching tiny solar GPS transmitters to young eagles to help gather information about their travels during the early years of their life. He said what they want to know most is what’s causing the birds to die before they reach maturity.

“Are they getting into trouble with lead poisoning by eating carcasses that have lead bullets in them?” he asked. “Are they getting into collisions with vehicles, being electrocuted on a power line, or hitting a wind turbine?”

Slater said the golden eagle is not a threatened or endangered species, but it is protected under government law, because it looks similar to the bald eagle when it’s young. He said despite the physical similarity, golden and bald eagles are not in the same family.

According to Slater, increased wildfires in western Utah over the past generation have reduced brush that jackrabbits use as cover. He said fewer jackrabbits, the golden eagle’s primary food source, has led to a major decline in the bird’s population.

“We had this decline in prey populations that haven’t rebounded,” he said. “We have the eagle’s decline at the same time, and unfortunately have not been doing very well since 2007.”

He said the eagle monitoring is being done in partnership with the state of Utah, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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