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Promontory – All systems were “go” weeks in advance at ATK’s test facility for the May 23 ground test of the U.S. Air Force’s Large Class Stage I (LCS I) solid rocket motor. However, one month before the scheduled test, a surprise hatched –two, actually –about a mile from the test stand where the motor was to be fired.
In mid-April, ATK’s Environmental Services specialists found a nest they thought might belong to a golden eagle. A wildlife expert from Bio-west was brought in to perform an aerial survey of the nest and confirmed golden eagles were incubating eggs on top of a structure about a mile away from where the static test would occur.
“When the program team told me there was a new item to monitor as we continued to prepare for the test, I was a little surprised to learn it was a family of golden eagles,” said Lamberth Blalock, vice president of Air Force Programs for ATK’s Defense and Commercial Division. “We literally put together an ‘eagle’ team to start researching and planning our next steps – which included briefing the Air Force on the matter.”
ATK wanted to make sure its ground test did not disrupt the eagles.
With the LCS I static test only a few weeks away, the Environmental Services team quickly collected as much information as possible about the adult golden eagles. After much data gathering and assessing, and two eaglets hatching, the team consulted with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials to ensure the eagles’ well-being.
After reviewing the data, USFWS determined the test would not likely impact the eagles. Even so, the nest was closely monitored during the test. The adult eagles were not present during the test, but returned to feed the eaglets later in the afternoon.
“As we completed the test we received information that not only included motor performance, but status updates and photos of the ‘rocket’ eagle family,” said Blalock. “It has been fascinating for our team to watch these eagles hatch and grow and to better understand this magnificent species.”
Following the test, ATK formed a collaborative research agreement with Hawk Watch International (HWI) and USFWS. On June 18, HWI came to Promontory to place transmitters on the young eaglets.
“The youngest hatchling was very curious as we approached the tower,” said Jason Wells from ATK Environmental Services. “While we were banding the hatchlings, the adult eagle flew into the nest with lunch, which looked like a rabbit. She stayed for a few minutes then took off again,” Wells said.
The data taken from the transmitters will be used to study the rates of survival, causes of mortality, and general ecology of eagles once they leave the nest. While the HawkWatch team was banding the raptors, ATK took the opportunity to install a webcam so employees can watch the hatchlings as they mature and take flight, which is expected within the week.
ATK’s Promontory facility covers more than 20,000 acres and is a refuge to multiple wildlife species. This effort is a small part of ATK’s environmental practices to ensure the company is responsible in preserving natural wildlife and the habitats located near its facilities nation-wide.