Wildlife monitoring at Aspen Glen supports 2021 decision to keep bald eagle protection zone in place | PostIndependent.com

Wildlife monitoring at Aspen Glen supports 2021 decision to keep bald eagle protection zone in place

A bald eagle at a hunting perch along the Roaring Fork River at Aspen Glen in October 2022.
Bald Eagle Monitoring Study/Mark Fuller photo

A year-long study of bald eagle and other wildlife activity at the Aspen Glen golf course community near Carbondale serves to support a 2021 Garfield County decision to leave a special bald eagle buffer zone in place, researchers said this week.

Volunteers with the Roaring Fork Audubon Society and John Sovell, a wildlife biologist with Colorado State University, coordinated with Aspen Glen homeowners to conduct the wildlife camera trap monitoring study from January 2022 through January 2023.

The study was requested by the Garfield Board of County Commissioners after their October 2021 decision to deny a request by the owners of the golf course and several undeveloped parcels to remove an eagle’s nest buffer zone that was put in place when the development was first approved in 1992, so that those areas could be developed.

The study was presented to the board on Monday.

Although the actual nest that was intended to be protected no longer exists after part of the tree where it was located blew over in 2018, residents have maintained that the eagles are still highly active in the area and that the protections should remain.

The monitoring study would seem to support that claim.

The study was conducted to determine whether eagles, as well as large ungulates such as elk and deer, are still actively using the buffer zone area, and how, said Delia Malone, an ecologist with the Audubon Society who has worked on various projects on the Western Slope for 30 years.

“Our observations indicate that the eagle nest buffer zone provides resources essential to the long-term survival of Aspen Glen’s bald eagles, and is important winter habitat for elk and year-round habitat for mule deer,” Malone said, referring to the area as a “sanctuary.” 

During the monitoring period, the buffer zone area had the second-highest use by eagles of the four zones that were studied, with 62 use observations, including 47 involving adults and 15 juvenile eagles, she reported.

A monitoring zone located upstream along the Roaring Fork River where a new nest site was established after the old nest blew down, had the highest activity with 74 use observations, including 34 involving nestling/juvenile activity.

Uses ranged from active nesting at the new nest site to foraging, perching and other activities all along that stretch of the river, Malone said.  

In addition, cameras captured other wildlife activity within the buffer zone, including 387 elk, 479 deer, 59 red fox and 26 coyote observations. 

“Mule deer use some areas of the (buffer zone) year-round while elk intensely use some areas of the zone in winter and spring,” Sovell wrote in the report. “From the results of this study, it appears the (buffer zone) is an important habitat for these two ungulate species.

“The eagle monitoring effort completed as a component of this work to understand the use of the (zone) by wildlife documents in much greater detail the use of the zone by that species, but this study does suggest the zone is important to the nesting bald eagle pair,” he wrote.

Malone said that, although the initial phase of the study is complete, the Audubon Society is committed to continuing to collect data.

Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at jstroud@postindependent.com or at 970-384-9160.

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