Underwriting provided by:
The Laura Moore Cunningham


Michael Whitfield measures a baby bald eagle [Credit: Jay Krajic]

The ground is beginning its green rebound. The skies are full of promising moisture. The ice recedes as mist sets the air in motion and circling above the birth of spring is the prize possession of the Palisades Ranger District. "Bald eagles are symbols of the wildness of this place," says Michael Whitfield, bald eagle lead researcher. "They're top of the food chain. They're at the apex in terms of the wild nature of eastern Idaho. I think we need to do all we can to sustain this resource."

A baby bald eagle [Credit: Kris Millgate]

The resource is the South Fork of the Snake River inside the Palisades Ranger District. It's a stronghold for the nation's symbol of freedom, and it's base camp for Whitfield's life work. He is credited with more than 30 years of bald eagle research in the area, banding hundreds of birds over the decades. "There are birds out here that we banded when they were youngsters in nests that are now in their mid- to late-20s," Whitfield says. "So every spring there's that anticipation of going out and seeing if such and such eagle is still around. If they're still successfully nesting. If they survived and trying to visit those old friends."

Whitfield bands baby eagles every spring. The bird of prey is an indicator species. How well eagles do indicates how well the whole ecosystem does. When Whitfield started banding, bald eagles were on the Endangered Species List with only 12 pair in the Palisades area. Now there are at least 80.

** Caribou Targhee National Forest, Palisades Ranger District