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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU to host a workshop on the landscape genetics of golden eagles and wind energy policy

Drive along portions of New Mexico, such as through the Nutt Valley, within Altamount Pass in California, or within an increasing number of locations in the United States and you?ll come across what look like giant, slow propelling fans.

Headshot of eagle
Golden Eagles are the topic of concern regarding wind turbines and energy development. Researchers are uncovering ways to conserve both the birds and proceed with development without harming one another. (NMSU photo provided by Gary Roemer)

Throughout the country there is a push for alternative renewable energy, such as solar, geothermal and in this case, wind energy. Because of this, the number of wind farms is increasing.

Wind farms are home to wind turbines, which capture natural wind and convert it into mechanical energy and then electricity. Wind energy is important to the United States as a key source of renewable energy, but these turbines are potentially harmful to wildlife. Two species of particular concern, bald and golden eagles, have received considerable attention because they are not only killed by such turbines, but they are also protected under federal law by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

New Mexico State University wildlife professor Gary Roemer, his Ph.D. student, Brian Millsap, the national raptor coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the New Mexico Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit assistant unit leader James Cain are holding a workshop Dec. 17-18 at the Pete V. Domenici Hall to address how landscape genetics can be used to understand the genetic structure of golden eagle populations, how connected these populations are, and how their large-scale movements could bring individual eagles into harms way.

?It?s clear that the wind farms with the current wind turbine design are not exactly benign to wildlife, harming bats and birds, including eagles,? Roemer said. ?What we are trying to understand is which populations of golden eagles are most at risk and whether there is a way to minimize wind farm impacts by placing wind facilities in locations that eagles do not frequent.?

Golden eagles do not recognize political boundaries and they travel all over the continent. For example, some individuals breed in Alaska and spend their winters in New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico.

?If you put a wind turbine in New Mexico, it?s going to impact more than just resident eagles,? Roemer said. ?It could harm eagles from Alaska or the Arctic Circle in Canada, similarly, a wind farm in Wyoming could whack an eagle that breeds in New Mexico.?

The workshop involves more than 20 professionals from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and from academia. The results of the workshop and follow up work should provide important information to help shape national policy to accommodate both alternative energy development and wildlife.

For more information, contact Gary Roemer at 575-646-3394, or groemer@nmsu.edu.