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Cheatgrass and raptors

Published June 9, 2013 5:09 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The peregrine falcons nesting on the Joseph Smith Building aren't the only birds having a tough time ("Despite 4 eggs, peregrine falcons may have only one offspring," Tribune, May 28). Other wild raptors, notably golden eagles, are struggling in Utah's West Desert.

Unlike downtown's peregrines, scientists have some ideas about what's causing the eagles' decline. Recent studies show that the spread of invasive — and extremely flammable — cheatgrass pushed the eagles over the edge in 2007, when large fires, including the Milford Flat blaze, swept through the region.

The increased intensity, duration and number of fires are due to cheatgrass on land with far fewer shrubs, fewer prey animals hiding in those shrubs and a 50 percent decline in golden eagle nest success, compared to the pre-fire period of 1998–2007.

Cheatgrass doesn't go away easily, but we can stop it from spreading into new areas. Fire management, shrub protection and minimizing human activity in lesser-disturbed regions are our best bets.

If we can't kick our cheatgrass problem, it may not be long before golden eagle sightings become a thing of the past.

Caroline Goldman Director, HawkWatch International

Salt Lake City