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KODIAK: Volunteer's Map of Mortality Protects Bald Eagles
Alaska Region, June 23, 2009
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KNWR Volunteer, Megumi Inokuma, updates bald eagle mortality data in GIS software with guidance from her supervisor, KNWR wildlife biologist, Brandon Saito.
KNWR Volunteer, Megumi Inokuma, updates bald eagle mortality data in GIS software with guidance from her supervisor, KNWR wildlife biologist, Brandon Saito. - Photo Credit: n/a

Spending hours in a small office peering at a computer screen isn’t the romantic experience prospective volunteers seek in wildlife management, but Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge volunteer, Megumi Inokuma, takes it on like every volunteer assignment: with an enthusiastic smile. Working under the direction of Kodiak Refuge biologist, Brandon Saito, Inokuma assisted with Kodiak’s on-going bald eagle protection program. The program documents precise eagle electrocution areas and shares the information with the local electrical utility, Kodiak Electric Association. This allows KEA to target power poles most in need of avian protective devices.

 

In Kodiak, as winter months diminish natural sources of the bald eagle diet, power poles offer inviting perches to hungry eagles; these “limbless trees” provide clear vantage points for eagles to search for scraps near homes and fish processing plants.  Unfortunately, the power poles also pose a mortal threat for the large raptors. Eagles can land on hazardous hardware atop the pole or, with their tremendous wing spans, bridge the distance between energized conductors.  Furthermore, Kodiak’s climate may add to the risk of electrocution: wet feathers proving more conductive than dry ones.

 

For more than a decade, KEA has worked closely with Kodiak NWR staff to reduce bald eagle mortality due to electrocution.  Before raptor deterrent devices were readily available on the commercial market, KEA line crews designed a hoop diversion device, which created a 10-foot wide arch above the hazardous conductive connections on a power pole.  The arches prevented birds from perching on or flying too near the conductive hardware, reducing the risk of electrocution.  In 2003, USFWS honored KEA with both a Director’s Corporate Wildlife Stewardship Award and the Service Citizen’s Award for the utility’s efforts in developing and implementing the protective devices.  Although the devices are effective, installing one on every power pole in Kodiak would prove cost prohibitive to the local, user-owned electric cooperative—that is where volunteer Inokuma’s mortality map came into play.  Using the mortality map, KEA prioritizes and plans for the installation of avian protective devices, targeting sites of highest mortality incidence.   

 

Kodiak NWR has supported KEA’s efforts to reduce eagle electrocutions for many years; however, due to a temporary staffing vacancy, a current map update lagged.  As volunteers so often do, Inokuma serendipitously arrived on the Refuge doorstep in time to help.  Looking to develop her experience in wildlife management and strengthen her budding GIS skills, Inokuma took on the mapping project with gusto. She updated the recent eagle mortality database, and she incorporated the mortality data into GIS mapping software, which could then be overlaid onto an aerial photograph.  KEA Manager of Operations and Engineering, Bob Coates, considers the geographically accurate map an improved tool for identifying which power poles are in greatest need of protective retrofit.

 

Inokuma volunteers an average of 16 hours per week. In addition to plotting eagle electrocutions, she assists with deer mortality and invasive plant surveys and other data entry projects.  Plotting bald eagle kills with GIS is a tedious if not morbid task, but Inokuma approaches this assignment with the same enthusiasm and precision applied to her more exciting field work.  When she was recently hired as a laboratory assistant by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Refuge staff feared Inokuma’s days as a volunteer were numbered.  But even starting a new job hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm to volunteer on Refuge projects:  “I’ll just volunteer on weekends,” she says with a generous smile.

 


Contact Info: Lisa Polito, (907) 487-0285, lisa_polito@fws.gov



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