JACKSON, Wyo. — It's well understood that pronghorn, mule deer and sage grouse have an aversion to natural gas infrastructure.
For birds of prey such as bald eagles, the effect of gas pads, drill rigs and compressor stations is less clear. Research on it doesn't exist.
In coming years, Jackson Hole biologists Bryan Bedrosian and Susan Patla will begin to fill in the blanks.
Bedrosian, with Craighead Beringia South, and Patla, with the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish, have outfitted six bald eagles with solar-powered GPS transmitters that will record the location of each bird every hour for the next three or four years. The research was funded by a $60,000 grant from the Pinedale Anticline Project Office.
"We'll be gathering super-detailed information on where they're nesting, going to forage and where they're wintering," Bedrosian said.
"The basic premise is to look at if there are any potential impacts on the movement of breeding eagles. It'll be interesting to see if they're selecting areas with noise buffers or light buffers."
Of the six eagles, three are resident adult males, two are migrating males and one is a younger female.
Capturing the seven- to 14-pound birds is "exceptionally difficult" and takes about a week of work for each bird, Bedrosian tells the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://bit.ly/TveBN8).
Floating the New Fork and Green rivers, the biologists used a dead fish stuffed with Styrofoam, wrapped in monofilament nooses and tethered to a floating log. When eagles are spotted perching, the fish are cast into the water in hope the bird's talons become entangled.
Because eagles in Green and New Fork river riparian areas weren't studied before the anticline and Jonah field booms, it'll be difficult to gauge the effect of gas development, Patla said.
"The question is not so much if they've changed their habits, since we can't answer that," she said.
Bedrosian said it will require some "fairly interesting analysis" to ascertain the true impacts of the gas fields.
"Basically, what we're doing is creating a model that says if there weren't gas wells here, would they be using the habitat?" Bedrosian said. "There's a couple different ideas that we have. One is looking at habitat use versus availability. ... It gives you a feel for what they're using and what they're avoiding."
Road construction, vehicles and unnatural light and noise can minimize eagle habitat. The electrification of the anticline, which will provide unnatural perches for golden eagles and hawks, could also influence habitat use.
"One of the potential upsides, if there's not as many diesel generators, it could potentially reduce the impacts of sound," Bedrosian said. "Golden eagles could increase in number. Say if there's a carcass available, the goldens will displace the balds."
Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com