SALT LAKE CITY — The Bureau of Land Management and the Raptor Inventory Nest Survey are once again teaming up to collect data on eagle, falcon, hawk and owl nests around federally managed public land in Utah. The hope is that the data can later be used in making major ecological decisions on the land.
The process involves citizen scientists, trained by the Raptor Inventory Nest Survey, who report nest locations of the giant birds found on BLM land all over the state. It's similar to the Audubon Society's yearly bird count but with data collected on nests instead of counting the birds themselves.
"It's a great opportunity for citizen science," said Dave Cook, wildlife program lead for the Bureau of Land Management-Utah.
Volunteers who sign up with the Raptor Inventory Nest Survey to learn how to identify species by their nests, how to use GPS to help map the location of the nest, and other protocols before they're assigned a grid primarily on BLM land in Utah. Then they map the locations of the different species' nests.
Volunteers also look for rabbits or other possible raptor prey to help figure out what the food situation is like per raptor nest found in the area. But just having the nest location at least gives a better idea of where the different species are living, Cook said.
Raptor species can use all sorts of different Utah landscapes for habitat. Nests can be found in open prairie land, forests, by cliffs and in grasslands. Some species use multiple habitats, Cook also pointed out.
The data collected ultimately allows BLM biologists and other researchers to know exactly where to go if they need to monitor nests to see if the species are active. And many times the grid volunteers are assigned is land marked as higher-priority locations for BLM biologists, especially if there is any upcoming discussion about how the land near a nest is used.
Biologists look for nests to know what appropriate buffers are needed before land is used for a project. Sometimes it's raptor nests, other times it's nests for other species like the greater sage grouse.
"Raptors will use the same nest oftentimes year-after-year, or some in close areas. So if we know where those nest locations are ahead of time, we can know what to authorize and what not to authorize there," Cook said. "So if someone proposes a project or something, they can pull it (the data) up and see where a nest occurs and we can have that data ahead of time."
RINS is slated to host a pair of workshops for the Salt Lake City area that will be held online this year. The first will be Saturday and the second is scheduled to be held on March 6.
A statewide field training workshop and a Fillmore-Vernal-Price workshop are to be held March 16. RINS already conducted a pair of workshops this month in southern Utah, covering areas like Cedar City-St. George in southwestern Utah and Moab-Monticello in southeastern Utah.
According to RINS, a volunteer doesn't need scientific credentials or expertise to volunteer but does need to learn how to identify a raptor nest before he or she is assigned to help collect data.
"It is recommended that you own a pair of binoculars, a GPS unit, a digital camera, and have an email address," RINS officials said in a statement earlier this month. "The time commitment involves monitoring visits to an assigned area from March through July."
Anyone interesting in registering for training can visit the RINS website, call 801-554-0807 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The statewide field training workshop on March 16 is mandatory for all new volunteers, according to the organization.