The future of the US economy, our national security, and our environmental quality all depend on decreasing our reliance on foreign oil and on fossil fuels. An essential component of decreasing this reliance is the development of alternative energy sources. Wind power is among the most important alternative energy sources currently available, and the mid-Atlantic region is a primary focus for wind power development.
In addition to being important to the development of wind power, the mid-Atlantic region holds a special responsibility for the conservation of the eastern North America's golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos). This small population breeds in northeastern Canada, winters in the southern Appalachians, and nearly all of these birds pass through the mid-Atlantic region twice each year. Movement of these birds is not random and, particularly during spring and autumn, migrating golden eagles concentrate in a narrow 30-50 mile wide corridor in central Pennsylvania. Thus, because the fate of these rare birds may depend on responsible management of the habitat they use it is critical to use research to identify ways to mitigate prospective impacts on this and similar raptor species.
The goal of this project was to develop high-resolution spatial risk maps showing migration corridors of and habitat use by eastern golden eagles in regions of high potential for wind development.
To accomplish this, we first expanded existing models of raptor migration for the eastern USA to identify broad-scale migration patterns. We then used data from novel high-resolution tracking devices to discover routes of passage and detailed flight behavior of individual golden eagles throughout the eastern USA. Finally, we integrated these data and models to predict population-level migration patterns and individual eagle flight behavior on migration. We then used this information to build spatially explicit, probabilistic maps showing relative risk to birds from wind development.
This project has numerous benefits to people and to wildlife, primarily because it will provide a framework for safer and less controversial development of wind power. Because golden eagles are an important "umbrella" for other raptors, this project benefits a suite of species that may be impacted by wind turbines. Finally this work is a recognized priority for central Appalachian states and it is explicitly called for in, and meets the goals of, numerous state wildlife conservation plans.
The final product we created, a region-wide map of relative risk to eagles of development of wind power, has allowed us to make specific recommendations regarding siting and operation of and mitigation at wind facilities. This approach also serves as a model for other projects to protect eagles in other places and to conserve suites of species beyond raptors.