Golden eagles travel thousands of miles in their yearly migration. Now, research techniques refined at West Virginia University will begin their own cross-country travels thanks to a $321,000 grant from the Bureau of Land Management.

Todd Katzner, a research assistant professor of wildlife and fisheries resources, and Phil Turk, assistant professor of statistics, will apply efforts they developed in the Appalachians to balance sustainable energy development with persistence of eagle species to California.

Katzner and Turk have been working on a project to provide a framework for safer and less controversial development of wind power in eastern North America. California is facing similar issues, with the added complexity that in addition to wind power, solar energy development is using up acres of land in western deserts.

“This is a project that exemplifies the discovery, engagement and impact that drives research at WVU,” Curt M. Peterson, vice president for Research and Economic Development said. “Professors Katzner and Turk’s work at WVU is having a positive effect across the North American continent and contributing to the elevation of our research work in the eyes of the nation. WVU, and its scientists and researchers continue to be heard from on topics of critical importance to energy and the environment.”

“Proposals for renewable energy projects in California have increased over the last several years due to the establishment of state-mandated Renewable Portfolio Standards and other policy drivers that seek to increase the production of energy from renewable sources,” Katzner explained.

“In California, six solar projects covering over 21,000 acres have been approved on BLM land to date, and as of December 2010 at least another 40 wind and solar development applications are pending,” he added. “The effect that these utility-scale energy development projects will have on golden eagle populations in California is currently unknown.”

Current information pertaining to California’s golden eagle populations and habitat is limited, yet studies at Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area further north in California have shown high mortality from turbines on golden eagles.

“Past eagle studies have resulted in a patchwork of information on eagles – some areas have never been surveyed, while other areas have not been surveyed in 30 years,” Katzner said.

This lack of data has hampered the BLM’s ability to understand impacts from renewable energy development and effectively manage for stable eagle populations on BLM lands.

In light of the number of proposed renewable energy developments throughout the state, Katzner, Turk and their colleagues hope to establish a comprehensive understanding of habitat relations and of risk to birds from energy development in California.

“Data will also help inform land management decisions surrounding eagles and renewable energy development,” Katzner added.

Katzner and Turk are trying to guide the development of wind power as an alternative to fossil fuels, while at the same time allowing golden eagle and other raptor populations to live safely in concert with this development.

“The new analytical techniques we have developed for work in eastern North America are built around assessing risk to eagles from development of alternative energy” says Turk. “They are thus also extremely well suited to addressing these same questions in the California desert.”

While not listed under the Endangered Species Act, the golden eagle has been designated a BLM Sensitive Species in California.

“Eagle populations in the western USA, including in California, appear to be in rapid decline, but the cause of these declines are poorly understood,” Katzner explained. “However, it is clear that habitat loss from urbanization and human activity and development are likely factors in population declines across the western U.S.”

Katzner and Turk will be joined on the project by Adam Duerr and Tricia Miller, research biologists with the WVU Research Corp., David Brandes, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and Michael Lanzone, CEO of Cellular Tracking Technologies in Somerset, Pa.



CONTACT: David Welsh, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design

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