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Program to study eagles captures Idaho wildlife

Posted at 3:17 PM, Feb 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-04 19:12:00-05

Less than a dozen miles from downtown Boise was a 250-pound dead elk in the snow. 

For most readers, that isn’t much of a surprise until you realize that the elk was placed by wildlife biologists who wanted to track golden eagle migration and distribution throughout southwest Idaho.

Todd Katzner, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Greg Kaltenecker, Executive Director of Boise State University’s Intermountain Bird Observatory, teamed up with Idaho Fish and Game to install cameras that monitor the hungry creatures in Boise’s own backyard.

The cameras and study zone (kept secret for security purposes) was less than a dozen miles from downtown Boise and not only captured golden eagles, but dozens of other scavengers looking to enjoy some dead elk.

Katzner has assisted in setting up cameras across the United States for the better part of ten years and the one in Idaho is the first of its kind in the Gem State.

Moving a dead elk onto the mountain side takes more than two people.  In the video below, biologist Lindsey Rhea (USGS), postdoctoral scientists Sharon Poessel (USGS) and Maitreyi Sur (Boise State and USGS), and graduate student Anna Autillio (Boise State) all threw in a hand to drag the carcass to the location.

After the carcass was placed, the crew cut into the hide to expose raw flesh and installed a heavy wire into the ground to ensure large predators wouldn’t steal the carcass from the view of the camera.

Across the country, the program has captured over four-million wildlife images to date and the Idaho location not only showcases the diversity of animals in Idaho but gives insight to the density of creatures in the surrounding mountains.

The program relies heavily on volunteers to replace carcasses and download camera images which is why students at the Intermountain Bird Observatory are perfect candidates.

“I can see countless opportunities in the future for volunteers and for students in our raptor biology program,” said Kaltenecker. “The project is local and fairly easy to do, and you get immediate results.”

“We are looking at the timing of arrival of specific species, and the links to migration, hunger and the amount of food available,” Katzner went onto explained. “We also get some amazing natural history stories that contribute to our understanding of the biology of these species.”

This particular site has since been closed down and additional locations are being developed according to the USGS.

Katzner anticipates that information obtained from the study could help inform wildlife management decisions for years to come.