By Becki Bryant
A project utilizing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to monitor golden eagle nests at Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) has won national recognition. The project was named the 2020 Resource Conservation and Resiliency Project of the Year by the DoD’s Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP).
DPG is home to multiple breeding pairs of golden eagles, which are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Because of these regulations, military testing and training activities can be restricted if they risk disturbing active eagle nests. Therefore, it is vital for Dugway Proving Ground, and similar military testing and training ranges, to know the location and status of eagle nests.
For two years during the breeding season, the project team monitored DPG’s eagle nests using three observation methods: an on-the-ground human observer, a military UAS and a small UAS (sUAS). The three methods were compared against each other to determine which one offered the most benefits. Researchers found the sUAS to be an extremely useful tool, able to quickly identify nests and take photographs to help determine the age of the eagles, which is an important criteria when deciding whether mission operations can safely continue.
“Simply being able to monitor adults and more accurately determine where they are in the nest-to-hatch process allows military activities into additional locations that have traditionally been limited,” explained wildlife biologist, Robert Knight, Natural Resources Program Manager at DPG.
The results of the two-year project, said Knight, will be made available through a final technical report and a guidebook for range managers that will focus on the use of sUAS.
“The results will inform range managers and natural resource managers on the best way to leverage technology to reduce range restrictions while meeting eagle stewardship responsibilities and critical mission objectives.”
Being able to use a military UAS, in this case an MQ-1C Gray Eagle, was made possible by the Rapid Integration and Acceptance Center (RIAC), a DPG tenant that conducts end-to-end testing of UAS.
Ron Delgado, RIAC Product & Operational Safety Lead, who was part of the project team, pointed out other long-term benefits. “The opportunity for RIAC to support this effort impacts all missions on Dugway. This project provides students being trained in unmanned aircraft systems the challenge of being given a grid coordinate and then identifying a difficult target. This will enhance UAS operator abilities to support difficult missions when deployed.”
In addition to RIAC and the DPG Natural Resource Office, the project team included Select Engineering Services, HawkWatch International, and the Army Threat Systems Management Office.