Roadless forests keep Golden Eagles soaring in Colorado skies

Drawing of Golden Eagle by Paula Ini.

When I think about birds of prey, the first idea that comes to mind is a strong sense of presence. Even more when it is the Golden eagle. This bird is the king of the skies — a great hunter living in mountainous areas.

But this royalty member, beyond its magnificent features, is vulnerable to human activities. Without our efforts to protect the roadless forests the bird calls home, human impacts would be far worse.

The Golden eagle feeds on small mammals like marmots, rabbits and ground squirrels — all of which live on a grass and grains diet that’s dependant on soil fertility. So how does this connect to our outstanding fellow?

Fast Facts

The Golden Eagle is the largest Bird of prey in North America.

When hunting they can reach a speed of 150 miles per hour.

Through the food chain.

Soil that supports living organisms eventually supports bigger predators. Damage done to forest soils can produce negative consequences for the Golden Eagle. It starts when his cuisine of choice ends up contaminating the birds by consuming pollutants from road construction and vehicles.

Road development also subdivides wildlife habitat and makes land more susceptible to flooding. As this bird of prey is solitary and hunts within a range of 162 square miles, a food shortage could mean starvation.

Have you ever seen a Golden Eagle flying in the wild? It can be found mostly in western United States. One place I would love to visit is the Roosevelt National Forest in Colorado, a favorite home for this beautiful bird.

Colorado also happens to be a major focus of our efforts to protect roadless forests. The Bush administration is seeking to open thousands of acres of currently protected forest to road building, mining and oil and gas development. We have kept the administration at bay since it began attacking the national roadless rule (put in place in 2001 and protecting more than 58 million acres of roadless forests).

I asked the assistant director of our Colorado office why our work on the eagle’s habitat is so important. “Lower elevation roadless lands are increasingly rare in the west,” Steve Smith told me. “Keeping eagle habitat free from fragmentation by roads, powerlines, surface damage and other unnatural intrusions will help ensure continued soaring and hunting for this distinctive bird.”

Steve’s words resonate with me. I feel a special connection to the Golden eagle, and I’m proud to be interning here at The Wilderness Society. Our successful work is helping these roadless forests - and that will  permit this majestic creature to be an ongoing ambassador of our skies.

drawing: Golden Eagle. Paula Ini.