Increasing wind energy development, lead poisoning, habitat loss, declining prey populations, and other factors threaten their populations. Scientists from the Teton Raptor Center, Cal Poly Humboldt, and other organizations working to help eagles have identified key habitats and created RaptorMapper.com to help direct conservation efforts.
RaptorMapper.com is a free, online tool to map important habitats and calculate the conservation values of land parcels for Golden Eagles across Wyoming. Wyoming is a key area for nesting Golden Eagles in the West and also provides some of the best wintering habitat, and important migration corridors for Golden Eagles that spend the breeding season in Canada and Alaska. The state also has some of the best wind resources and fastest growing renewable wind energy development in the country.
In recent years, the overlap of Golden Eagle habitat and wind energy development in Wyoming has led to several major utility companies being prosecuted for eagle fatalities at wind farms and an increase in the number of eagle take permit applications with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Permits also include direct payments for conservation actions to offset any eagle mortalities.
“RaptorMapper can be used by utility companies to assess risk in initial project planning to avoid costly eagle fatalities and, at the same time, help direct those mitigation dollars to areas that will have the greatest benefit to eagles,” says Bryan Bedrosian, team leader for the highly collaborative RaptorMapper project, Conservation Director for Teton Raptor Center, and Adjunct Senior Scientist at Wyoming Natural Diversity Database at the University of Wyoming. “Being able to identify and calculate the value of any area of the state for Golden Eagles is critical to maintaining their populations for future generations.”
The RaptorMapper team sought to create an open source conservation tool, so they developed a free, online mapping tool to explore the maps and also calculate the value of any user-defined parcel of land for eagles. For the past three years, these scientists developed models and maps of key Golden Eagle habitat across Wyoming and the surrounding regions. Using thousands of nesting records and tens-of-millions of locations collected from tagged Golden Eagles by many biologists from across the country, the team has identified previously undescribed important seasonal habitats for the species.
“This type of information is important to guide management of sensitive species, like Golden Eagles, in Wyoming,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department Nongame Bird Biologist Zach Wallace, who is also lead author on one of the scientific journal articles that provides the basis of this work. “Everyone now has access to consistent, scientifically defensible information to proactively mitigate potential impacts to eagle populations across the state.”
“Developers, biologists, and landowners can all evaluate how important any area is to Golden Eagles,” said Jeff Dunk, a professor at Cal Poly Humboldt and a member of the research team. “For example, RaptorMapper.com shows the best 20% of nesting habitat is concentrated within only 5% of Wyoming, while the lowest 20% occur across 50% of the state. Using these maps to direct conservation actions in those limited areas of high value will have much greater impact to the population. Now that we have developed the methods to map these habitats at large scales, we are excited to work with new partners to expand this tool to other states and species in the future.”
RaptorMapper.com is currently available on any web platform, along with the ability to download the maps, reports, detailed information on the study, and user guides for the tool.
RaptorMapper was developed by scientists and team members from Teton Raptor Center, Cal Poly Humboldt, Wyoming Natural Diversity Database at the University of Wyoming, Natural Resource Geospatial, and Gage Cartographics. Funding for this study and tool was provided by Knobloch Family Foundation and Teton Raptor Center. Knobloch Family Foundation is committed to investments that ensure the conservation of natural ecosystems and Teton Raptor Center is a non-profit organization in Wilson, Wyoming whose mission is to advance raptor conservation through education, research, and rehabilitation. Data used in this project was provided by dozens of biologists, organizations and agencies from across the West.