History of the RINS Project

RINS Volunteers have been continuously monitoring raptor nests in Utah since 2000.

Due to funding issues in 2000, the nests south of I-80 were not going to be monitored. On May 23, 2000, Dawn W. Sebesta volunteered to monitor nests in this area and enlisted volunteers to assist her. It was late in the nesting season, but Dawn Sebesta and four teams of volunteers checked 226 nests in the West Desert, finding 30 active nests.

Beginning in 2001, Dawn Sebesta enlisted more volunteers and established the Raptor Inventory Nest Survey (RINS) to continue monitoring and expanding the BLM nest inventory in the West Desert and Rich County: an effort which will continue as long as volunteers are willing to help. The nests are part of a long-term Bureau of Land Management project in the Salt Lake Field Office.

The numbers of RINS volunteers and raptor nests discovered and monitored expanded in 2002 and 2003. Dawn Sebesta banded increasing numbers of nestlings focusing on ferruginous hawks and burrowing owls. In 2003, Dawn Sebesta was recognized with establishing the largest volunteer effort ever undertaken by the BLM in the State of Utah, and because of her accomplishments with RINS the BLM awarded Dr. Dawn W. Sebesta, the Utah State Director’s “Public Land Partner Award”, their highest recognition for a volunteer.

On October 4, 2003, Dawn Sebesta and another RINS volunteer, Jim Messinger, died in a light plane crash while surveying for raptor nests in the West Desert. Following this horrific tragedy, three RINS volunteers stepped up to form the RINS Working Group as a leadership transition team to explore the possibility of keeping RINS viable.

As 2003 came to a close, an office for RINS was established in Sandy, Utah. The RINS Working Group was comprised of three volunteers, Kay Millar, Robyn MacDuff and John Stratton who coordinated and accomplished the work necessary to ensure RINS would keep moving forward. As the monitoring season got underway in 2004, many of the volunteers took on extra areas to monitor. This helped tremendously to fill the hole left by Dawn’s passing.

The BLM recognized RINS in 2004 with the “National Volunteer Award” presented to the Raptor Inventory Nest Survey Group for “Making a Difference on Public Lands” which was awarded June 3, 2004 at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., and then in August 2004, the “Take Pride in America Award” was also awarded and presented to RINS.

In 2005, Robyn MacDuff began overseeing the project, Kay Millar decided to further develop the raptor field studies on the Deep Creek Mountains, which represents an important area for raptor study for RINS, and John Stratton continued on as a volunteer. The information gathered by RINS volunteers continues to serve a fundamental role in providing pertinent data that would otherwise go unknown to federal, state and local land managers.

In 2006, work began on building a website for the general public to access and learn about what RINS is all about. People responded and the RINS.ORG has a great following. Also in 2006, plans got underway to create an online data entry portal for volunteers to enter their data. Two computer software engineers were involved in the exploring various technologies available. Once the technology was chosen the work began utilizing one of the engineers plus a business analyst. With everyone working full-time jobs, attending college, running RINS, and working on the data entry system it would take three years to complete and RINS Online.

In 2008, the Salt Lake Field Office of the BLM reorganized and became the Salt Lake District Office (SLDO), which incorporated the Fillmore Field Office (FFO) under the SLDO management umbrella. RINS began to monitor and report on the raptor nests within Fillmore’s management area in 2008. Currently, RINS is working on building a group of dedicated, ongoing volunteers that live in or around the Fillmore Field Office.

In 2009, RINS volunteers continued to collect a baseline of annual raptor data; however, additional surveys were made for the Mona to Oquirrh transmission corridor for Rocky Mountain Power. RINS’ efforts contributed important additional data for the EIS document whereby adjustments were made along the corridor to avoid viable nesting areas.

RINS Online was launched in August of 2009. The development of RINS Online began in 2006, which encompasses a data entry system that allows volunteers access to the RINS database through an easy to use interface over the Internet. RINS Online was developed to improve efficiency with data entry and storage plus allowing access to raptor data for volunteers. RINS Online quickly becomes the largest raptor database in Utah.

Also in 2009, RINS was invited to participate in the Utah Legacy Raptor Project: A multi-year study regarding the effects that invasive species (cheatgrass) has on the prey base that burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, and golden eagles require for nesting productivity and success. This study involves organizations and individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds: Department of Defense (Dugway Proving Grounds and Hill Air Force Base), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Department of Natural Resources, HawkWatch International, Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, Utah State University, Brigham Young University, and private individuals.

In 2010, RINS volunteers continued monitoring raptor nests throughout the West Desert and Rich County for the Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Salt Lake (SLDO) and Fillmore (FFO) field offices. In the Fillmore area, both active and historic nests have been visited and data recorded. The raptor data has been used to guide decisions on wind farms and ATV races, two popular activities within the Fillmore BLM’s management area. Much work continued with the partners involved in the Utah Legacy Raptor Project, which formed in 2009, setting forth details and procedures, and establishing a foundation for the work to be performed in 2011.

Also in 2010, an ongoing and comprehensive project was developed involving historic nest data from field studies performed by various biologists prior to the year 2000. This project involves collecting and validating historic records and data, which represents a rich addition to an already large dataset that RINS volunteers have spent 11 years accumulating. This data will serve to illustrate where raptors nested over a much longer period of time. It will also serve to give us a better understanding of the changes and constants in terms of habitat conditions and the birds’ choices in seeking out nesting locations.

As 2010 came to a close, it became clear RINS needed the structure of a non-profit entity to manage the financial aspects of the organization. This non-profit status allows RINS to move forward with the activities it has been involved with for many years. In early 2011, the paperwork to form a 501(c)(3) was completed and filed with the various required entities. The 501(c)(3)process is expected to be finalized within the first quarter of 2011.

The year 2011, marks twelve years of continuous data collection on nesting birds of prey (raptors) utilizing an all-volunteer effort. The application to receive a not-for-profit status a 501(c)(3) was approved by the Internal Revenue Service of the United States in October. Through this process, RINS defined its mission and became eligible to apply for grants and offer individuals the opportunity to make a tax-deductible contribution. RINS will continue its dedicated work helping all raptors in Utah through monitoring, data collection, education, and collaboration. RINS also participates with other agencies to improve and develop protocols that provide the protection raptors need to ensure vigorous, ongoing populations.

In 2012, Box Elder County was added to the scope of raptor monitoring for RINS to cover then followed closely with the addition of the BLM Field Offices of Vernal, Price and Moab. A large effort got underway to recruit and train new volunteers to start monitoring now in 18 counties across the State of Utah where Box Elder, Duchesne, Daggett, Uintah, Carbon, Emery, Sanpete, and Grand counties were added to the roster. RINS participated in and presented citizen science accomplishments of our volunteers at the Utah Chapter of The Wildlife Society in Springdale, Utah.

In September 2013, RINS was recognized for its continued partnership and contributions to the BLM by Utah State Director of the BLM Juan Palma. RINS made great strides getting the new areas covered by volunteers. During this time the majority of the available quads that contain suitable raptor habitat are assigned to volunteers in three counties: Tooele, Rich, and Juab. RINS recruited 48 new team leaders, adding to an existing base of fifty-one team leaders. This will result in approximately 150 volunteers, up from 103 in 2012.

In 2014, RINS doubled the number of volunteers monitoring afield resulting in record numbers of nesting raptors being reported across 18 counties in Utah. This effort makes good progress on the areas RINS monitors across Utah. RINS continues its efforts to coordinate with various wildlife organizations and agencies across the State of Utah to support efforts to protect raptors and their habitats. RINS was invited to participate in the Utah Eagle Working Group where organizations and agencies come together in an effort to identify and rectify threats to eagles in Utah.

RINS Volunteers have been continuously monitoring raptor nests in Utah since 2000. RINS continues to recruit new volunteers, train and support both new and returning volunteers in an effort to monitor and record pertinent data on the raptors that nest in Utah building the volunteer base to cover new territories. RINS will continue its work and dedication with helping raptors in Utah through data collection, education, and collaboration with various organizations and agencies to improve and develop procedures and protocols that provide protection for raptors and their habitats to ensure vigorous and successful populations.