Golden Eagle Conservation
Conservation and management of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) has gained importance in recent years as rapid expansion of energy development, combined with anthropogenic sources of mortality and habitat alteration, may be causing declines in golden eagle populations in the western U.S. These concerns, coupled with protection of golden eagles under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act, 16 U.S.C. 668a-668d) which prohibits the “take” of eagles without a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service)-issued permit (50 CFR Parts 13 and 22), have generated an urgent need for new information and analysis tools to support implementation of the Service’s Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance (ECPG) and other eagle conservation programs.
Western Golden Eagle Team
The Service funded the Western Golden Eagle Team (WGET) from 2013 through 2019 in order to help meet the information needs of golden eagle conservation and management in the western U.S. (Legacy Regions 1, 2, 6 and 8). WGET collaborated with state and federal land management agencies, Tribes, industry and research institutions to develop conservation strategies, decision support tools, and information resources to guide project siting decisions, and support evaluation of project proposals, planning of mitigation efforts, and land management planning.
Our Conservation Planning Approach
Golden eagles inhabit a diverse array of habitats and exhibit complex seasonal patterns of dispersal and migration encompassing much of western North America. The Service addressed this diversity by employing a systematic conservation planning approach focused on spatially explicit assessments of eagle populations and threats. The assessments are organized by ecoregion, providing managers and stakeholders with planning tools that are tailored to the specific regions where they work. The decision support tools are intended to inform siting of energy development projects (ECPG Stage 1) and land management planning, as well as identification and spatial prioritization of mitigation opportunities (ECPG Stage 4).
Website and Product Organization
The Golden Eagle webpages are organized into four sections, briefly described below:
- Distribution and Movement: Spatially explicit predictive models of golden eagle distribution and density are the foundation of the Service's decision support tools and risk analyses. This section contains maps and spatial data for breeding and wintering habitats, as well as fall and spring dispersal and migration. These models are intended to be used in desktop analyses to inform development siting and prioritization of conservation and management actions.
- Management and Mitigation: Conservation of golden eagles requires understanding the factors that limit their populations, and management and mitigation typically focus on the effects of human activities on eagle populations. This section addresses population limiting factors, such as electrocution, human disturbance, habitat and prey, diseases, and contaminants. These information resources were developed to identify conservation and management priorities and inform compensatory mitigation opportunities, such as retrofitting power poles and establishing conservation banks.
- Ecoregional Strategies: The conservation strategies are based on data and modeling results compiled at the scale of ecoregions, and provide regional information, decision support tools and management approaches for direct application in golden eagle conservation. The strategies are intended to be complementary with existing management plans, such as State, Flyway, Tribal, and other regional conservation planning efforts for golden eagles and other species of conservation concern.
- Risk Analysis Tools: Golden eagle populations can be negatively impacted by a number of anthropogenic and natural threats. This section provides a spatial prioritization of relative risk to golden eagles within ecoregions and across the western U.S. Risk analyses combine habitat suitability models with models or indices of hazards to rank areas based on the spatial overlap between eagle habitat and a given hazard, such as electrocution, lead exposure, wind energy development, oil and gas development, and wildfire, among others. Understanding the relative magnitude and distribution of risks is an important precursor to the development of conservation strategies aimed at avoiding and minimizing existing and emerging threats to golden eagles.