History of the RINS Project

The year 2014, marks fifteen years of continuous data collection on nesting birds of prey (raptors) utilizing an all-volunteer citizen science effort. RINS will continue to recruit new volunteers, train and support both new and returning volunteers in their efforts to monitor and record pertinent data on the raptors that nest in Utah. In 2013, RINS will continue its work and dedication with helping raptors in Utah through data collection, education, and collaboration with other agencies to improve and develop protocols that provide protection raptors need to ensure vigorous, ongoing populations.

In 2010, RINS volunteers continued monitoring raptor nests throughout the West Desert and Rich County for the Salt Lake and Fillmore BLM 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 Fillmore BLM’s management area. Much work continued with the partners involved with Utah Legacy Raptor Project, which formed the previous year, where details and procedures were set forth, and a foundation was established for the work that will be performed in 2011.

Also in 2010, an ongoing and comprehensive project was developed that involves 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 that 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, which is expected to be finalized within the first quarter of 2011.

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 also launched in August of 2009. The development of RINS Online began in 2005 and 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.

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 various private individuals.

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 SLDO’s 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.

The nests that belong to the BLM inventory as well as the DS inventory are part of the RINS project and are surveyed annually by volunteers. RINS was originally founded and organized by Dawn Sebesta in 2000. In late 2003, a team of three volunteers, Kay Millar, Robyn MacDuff and John Stratton, stepped up to form the RINS Working Group. Then in 2005, Robyn MacDuff began overseeing the whole project while Kay Millar spearheaded raptor field studies on the Deep Creek Mountains, a very large area, and a vital aspect of RINS. 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.

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.

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 alive. Because of this team’s efforts a new office was established in Sandy, Utah, and RINS survived the loss.

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 Ph.D., the Utah State Director’s “Public Land Partner Award”, their highest recognition for a volunteer.

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 BLM project in the SLFO.

Due to funding issues in 2000, the nests south of I-80 were not going to be monitored. On May 23, 2000, Dawn 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.

DS Nests

The RINS project includes raptor nests (referred to as the DS nest inventory) that are located outside the scope of the Salt Lake and Fillmore BLM field offices (West Desert and Rich County). In 1997, Dawn Sebesta began monitoring nests in Summit, Wasatch, and Morgan Counties. These areas of nest locations continue to expand as volunteers find and report new nests across Utah.

Background

The Bureau of Land Management’s Salt Lake Field Office (BLM SLFO) has been collecting data on raptor nests for many years. In 1996, a BLM wildlife biologist initiated a cooperative study with HawkWatch International (HWI). The focus was Ferruginous Hawks, and in 1996 and 1997 a summer intern was recruited to survey and monitor the nests, primarily in Tooele and Box Elder Counties (the West Desert). In 1997, volunteers were also recruited to assist in some areas. In 1998 and 1999, BLM obtained funding to hire two summer technicians to monitor and tag the nests, to band the young Ferruginous Hawks, and to record the exact GPS locations of all the raptor nests in the West Desert.

In 1997, Dawn Sebesta was one of the HWI volunteers recruited, but instead of volunteering in the West Desert, she surveyed for nests in Rich County, an area with considerable BLM land but no historic Ferruginous Hawk nests. From 1997 to 2000, Dawn Sebesta found more than 100 raptor nests including active Ferruginous Hawks, and in 2001, volunteers joined her in locating and monitoring nests in Rich County.