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Golden Eagle Declines Prompt Research

Many Americans know the success story about the recovery of bald eagles. But few realize their cousins, the golden eagles, are in trouble.

Biologist Steven Slater, who studies golden eagles for Hawkwatch International, He says their populations are declining even though golden eagles are protected by stateand federal law.

“They have been in trouble for the last number of years here in Utah because of their dependence on open country and shrub habitat and jackrabbits being one of their primary prey species and there’s been a lot of changes for them,” says Slater.

Hawkwatch biologists want to know why the average number of breeding pairs has dropped by half. They’ve attached GPS transmitters to 33 golden eagles to learn more about their habitat and food sources.

Researchers suspect the culprits might also include wildfire, development, nest destruction and even campers setting up tents near nesting areas.  Slater says finding answers will help people, too.

“The changes that raptors are suggesting to our environment have impacts for humans as well,” he says. “They’re really a bellwether for what’s going on in the environment for us.”

Hawkwatch is part of a statewide working group that’s currently gathering everything that’s known about golden eagles in Utah. The group includes government agencies, biologists, advocacy groups and wind-energy companies.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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