Wildlife officials propose plan to monitor falcons

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The peregrine falcon has been hailed as one of the Endangered Species Act's success stories. Now, federal wildlife officials want to make sure the bird populations continue to thrive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday released a proposed monitoring plan for the peregrine falcon, which was removed from the federal endangered list in 1999.

Utah wildlife officials haven't seen the plan but have kept a watch on the falcons around the state.

''We've been doing some monitoring on our own even before the de-listing,'' said Frank Howe, avian program coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Wildlife officials have tracked about 150 nesting pairs of peregrine falcons in Utah. This is based on data collected in 1996.

''We haven't had any real effective monitoring since then,'' Howe said. But there hasn't been any drastic changes in the nesting falcons, he added.

The peregrine falcon, one of several species of hawks that live in high mountain areas, first received federal protection in 1970, three years before Congress passed the Endangered Species Act. It became one of the first animals listed.

At the birds' lowest point in 1975, there were 324 nesting pairs in North America. Wildlife officials lay much of the blame on the pesticide DDT, which prevented peregrine chicks from hatching properly.

The bird became an environmental success story after DDT was banned and captive breeding programs helped put more than 6,000 peregrines back into the wild.

Now, officials hope to maintain that population, recommending that approximately 20 percent of the known breeding population be monitored once every three years for at least five generations. Peregrine falcons mature at about 3 years of age; therefore the monitoring plan proposes to conduct five surveys, once every three years, to detect changes in the population.

''This monitoring program for the peregrine falcon is similar to an annual check up. We want to make sure our patients, once released from the intensive care provided by the Endangered Species Act, remain healthy and vital,'' said Marshall Jones, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The proposed plan designates five geographical regions within the United States for surveys. Each territory would be visited twice, once during late courtship, egg laying, or incubation, and once late in the nesting season. The purpose of the first visit is to verify the presence of a nesting pair. The second visit would be to determine the presence or absence of the young.

Federal officials are hopeful this can be done through cooperation with universities, ornithological groups and falcon enthusiasts.

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)

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