Interaction between Energy Development and Raptors

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Energy production has become essential for modern society. At the same time, this process can have negative effects on wildlife and ecosystems. It is in the best interest of society and the environment to understand these effects and to manage and mitigate for them. Our team focuses on measuring how energy development influences birds of prey and learning how to minimize negative influences.

Current and Recent Studies

Eagles in California

Golden eagle populations in North America face a number of threats. In California in particular, they are listed as a species of concern by numerous state and federal agencies. Renewable energy production has the potential to impact eagles at all stages of their life history. This has been demonstrated at multiple California wind energy plants and there is worry about the risk to birds from solar energy production.

Our research addresses questions related to habitat use, home range, and population dynamics of golden eagles. Much of this research focuses on data from global positioning system - global system for mobile communications - or GPS-GSM - telemetry systems evaluated within a Geographic Information System - or GIS - to address questions linked to eagle movement. To date, we have tracked eagles in the Mojave Desert, at Tehachapi, and in northeastern California. The data we collect is also used to build risk models to understand how renewable energy development can be best managed to reduce risk to eagles from turbines and solar fields.

 

Wyoming Golden Eagles

Wyoming is an important area for both eagles and wind energy facilities, because of its low human densities and high wind speeds. Rapid expansion of wind energy is forecast for Wyoming, prompting a need to predict risk to golden eagles and other raptors from turbines, and to suggest approaches to bird-friendly wind energy development.

Our team collaborates with others to address that need using telemetry data from Wyoming golden eagles as input to spatially-explicit risk models that identify areas good for turbine placement and low risk to eagles. These new models help predict possible turbine locations that pose low and high risk to eagles, and they can be used to suggest alternatives to high risk sites that also have high energy generation potential as well.

 

Oklahoma Bald Eagles

The central Great Plains, including Oklahoma, is an important focus area for development of new wind facilities. Wind turbines can present a risk to bald eagle populations; however, due to a lack of scientific information concerning flight behavior of these birds, sound management recommendations are challenging to make or implement. While the effects of wind power on eagles have been extensively studied in the eastern and western U.S., there has been almost no research on this problem in the Great Plains area.

We are tracking bald eagles using GPS-GSM telemetry to acquire information that give wildlife managers and energy developers the ability to make decisions to address potential conflict between bald eagles and wind turbines. We are also collecting information on topography, weather, and land cover to understand how environmental conditions affect eagles and may put them as risk from collisions with wind turbines.

 

Birds of Prey in the Central Appalachian Mountains

Wind power is among the fastest growing alternative energy sources currently available, and the mid-Atlantic region is a primary focus for wind power development. This area is also home to the eastern population of North America's golden eagles. This population is small, geographically separate, and potentially genetically distinct from western populations. These birds breed in northeastern Canada and winter in the southern Appalachians, and spring and fall migration is along the Appalachian corridor.

Our goal is to develop high-resolution spatial data of migration corridors of and habitat use by eastern golden eagles in regions of high potential for wind development. Because golden eagles are an important "umbrella" species for other birds, especially other raptors, this information helps land managers and industry develop and maintain wind facilities while also protecting a suite of potentially impacted species. Region-wide maps of relative risk of development of wind power to eagles allow us to make specific recommendations regarding siting of new wind farms and operation of existing wind farms.