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Multi-Year Raptor Inventory and Survey Project in SW Idaho

Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and Orchard Combat Training Center

View of the Snake River
View of surveyed raptor territory by the Snake River near Cove Arm Lake in the NCA (photo credit: Steve Alsup)

Dr. Jim Belthoff (Principal Investigator) and RRC Research Associate Steve Alsup (MS, Raptor Biology, ’12) have been working on a multi-year raptor inventory and survey in southwestern Idaho, funded by sponsored projects from the Idaho Division of the Military and the Bureau of Land Management. The Orchard Combat Training Center (OCTC) lies within the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (NCA), which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Idaho Army National Guard training activities on the OCTC are managed under a Memorandum of Understanding with the BLM, and the OCTC training lands must be managed in accordance with the Department of Defense’s and the BLM’s (Department of Interior) environmental regulations, including management of species listed or proposed for listing pursuant to the Endangered Species Act and Bureau sensitive species which are found on BLM lands. In order to comply with these regulations, the Idaho Army National Guard is proactively surveying for these species and their associated habitat in order to maintain their compliance with management guidelines.

Prairie Falcon standing on a rock ledge
Prairie Falcon standing on a rock ledge, laying claim to a former Red-tailed Hawk nest (photo credit: Steve Alsup)

Raptors that nest in the canyon of the NCA depend heavily on the OCTC for foraging and transiting between foraging areas. This use has been documented in extensive telemetry studies, surveys, and observations from the 1980s to the present. Although we know historical densities of raptors nesting in the canyon, raptor densities and reproductive performance in the area had not been evaluated since 2003. Therefore, an important need to survey these populations exists to ensure the continued compatibility of military activity with the protection of natural resources and heritage. This ongoing project looks at the current abundance and distribution of raptors associated with the NCA and scientifically compares the demography of birds in modern surveys with those from earlier surveys conducted on the same lands.

Biologists monitoring Prairie Falcon territory by the Snake River
Biologists Christina Hartmann and Chris Roberts monitoring Prairie Falcon territory with spotting scopes and binoculars by the Snake River in the NCA (photo credit: Steve Alsup)

In addition, there is an alarming trend associated with the amount of illegal shooting of federally protected migratory birds in and around the OCTC. Not only does this illegal shooting kill protected wildlife, but it also decreases reproductive performance and degrades the long-term natural heritage of these military lands. The purpose of this project is to provide information on the scope and scale of the problem of the illegal shooting of migratory birds within and around military lands. Specifically, the project will provide information on the seasonal frequency with which illegal shooting of migratory birds occurs, the estimated spatial distribution of potential hotspots, shooting density maps within those hotspots, and the species that are targeted.