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SAN DIEGO NWR: Team Helps Golden Eagles nest on the Refuge
California-Nevada Offices , August 16, 2013
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Helicopter hauls the eagle platform separately from the rest of the installation supplies up to the site on Mt. San Miguel.  The platform alone weighs about 300 pounds.
Helicopter hauls the eagle platform separately from the rest of the installation supplies up to the site on Mt. San Miguel. The platform alone weighs about 300 pounds. - Photo Credit: Jill Terp/USFWS
Ed Winchester of Frontier Environmental Solutions, Inc. drills holes into the rock supporting the eagle nest platform, while on belay.
Ed Winchester of Frontier Environmental Solutions, Inc. drills holes into the rock supporting the eagle nest platform, while on belay. - Photo Credit: Staff/Frontier Environmental Solutions, Inc.
The crew from Frontier Environmental Solutions, Inc. and the 2013 Youth Conservation Corps kids stand in front of pilot Mel Cain's Hughes 500 helicopter.  Mt. San Miguel stands at 2,565 feet in the background.
The crew from Frontier Environmental Solutions, Inc. and the 2013 Youth Conservation Corps kids stand in front of pilot Mel Cain's Hughes 500 helicopter. Mt. San Miguel stands at 2,565 feet in the background. - Photo Credit: Lisa Cox/USFWS

By Jill Terp

The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge (SDNWR) teamed with Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Palm Springs South Coast Field Office, San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) Environmental Mitigation Program (EMP), and Frontier Environmental Solutions, Inc. (FES), to increase the number of nest sites for Golden Eagles in southern San Diego County, California. Golden Eagles are covered under San Diego’s Multiple Species Conservation Program – a multi-agency, regional-scale conservation strategy that’s now 15 years into its implementation – in which the Refuge is a significant participant.

In 2007, a rock ledge holding a Golden Eagle nest on SDNWR’s Mt. San Miguel collapsed. While eagles continue to be seen in the general area, sites suitable for the large nests that eagles build are infrequent.

SDNWR biologist John Martin identified two locations to install an artificial nest platform, one on the Refuge and another on BLM’s Jamul Mountain. Refuge Manager Jill Terp submitted a successful grant request to SANDAG’s EMP for the design, construction, and installation of the two platforms, including funding for a helicopter to ferry materials and installers to the remote locations. Refuge staff worked with BLM Biologist Joyce Schlachter on site selection and the NEPA process. FES, a company from Ridgecrest, California, specializing in bat-friendly mine closures, was chosen as the contractor due to their long history of work in remote locations that requires climbing gear and a rock drill – sometimes in situations over old mine shafts that are hundreds of feet deep. The Refuge, BLM and FES team worked together to design a nest platform that resulted in a 10x10’ metal frame with mesh that would drain but not be a trap for eagle claws.

FES principal Ed Winchester and his staff loaded heavy duty material bags with all the tools and gear required. Mel Cain, of Utility Helicopters, brought his bright red Hughes 500 helicopter and decades of flight experience, to ferry the crew to the site. He then used a long line to pluck the loads and the platform one by one and carry the materials to the rock face sites. Ed did the heavy drilling - hanging on the rockface on belay - while the crew ensured Ed’s safety and kept an eye on anything that could start a fire. Each platform was bolted into the rockface and braced; the finished structure is sturdy enough to support over one hundred pounds of eagle nest and eagles. The helicopter returned to bring tools and crew back to the staging locations when each location was finished. Luckily, this day was also the last day for the Youth Conservation Corps, so the students were able to meet the crew and witness the installation from afar on Proctor Valley Road.

In the next few months, other climbers will bring branches and a whitewash to the platforms to give eagles the idea that these are real nest sites, and during the upcoming spring and for years to come, Refuge staff will keep watch for nesting eagles.

Jill Terp is the refuge manager at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge.


Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov



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