The creation of the Snake River Birds of Prey NCA was the culmination of the most intensive birds of prey research effort in history. A decade of scientific studies defined the area as critical to the future of unique bird populations, which have captured national and international attention. Basalt and rhyolite cliffs provide ledges, cracks and crevices for nesting raptors. While the adjacent shrub-grass steppe north of the Snake River, with its finely textured loess soil, provides habitat for the Piute ground squirrel and blacktail jackrabbit; major prey species for the larger raptors.
This site supports one of the densest populations of nesting raptors in North America. Up to 800 pairs of raptors of 12 different species nest here; Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Northern Harrier, Great-horned Owl, Long-eared Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson?s Hawk, American Kestrel, Burrowing Owl, Short-eared Owl, and Western Screech-owl. More than 200 Prairie Falcons nest here, representing up to 5% of the world?s population of this species. Bald Eagles winter here, and Long-billed Curlews are common breeders.
Invasion of highly flammable non-native annual weeds, particularly cheatgrass, are a serious, and rapidly spreading, problem on the NCA. These plants provide fine fuels that perpetuate recurring fires and eliminate native shrub communities. Destruction of the desert crust is a major threat, which is exacerbated by over-grazing and recreational overuse, particularly by off-road vehicles. Similarly, these activities are also increasing localized problems of soil erosion and degradation. To help curb the spread of noxious weeds, increasing fires, and impacts on soil, off-road vehicle use is being controlled to some extent. In addition, fire-disturbed sites are being reseeded with fire-tolerant species. Illegal shooting of raptors and disturbance at nest sites in localized areas is a problem. To limit this problem, a partial shooting closure has been implemented. There is also a potential decrease in ground squirrel and badger populations, both of which are highly important to raptor populations. To educate the public about the area and the conservation problems, educational signing has been added, a visitor area has been developed, and maps and educational brochures for the public have been prepared. To deal with NCA-wide issues, a Park Ranger has been hired, a management plan for the NCA has been developed, and there is management and monitoring of livestock use and U.S. National Guard training area use.
Snake River plain topography, flat to gently rolling; snake River canyon surrounded by basalt cliffs. Climate is hot in summer (up to 105˚F) and cold in winter (down to -20˚F). It?s in an 8-10 inch precipitation zone (cold desert), with soils that are mainly wind-blown loess. Geology is largely volcanic ? parent rock basalt or rhyolite. Plant communities consist of Wyoming big sagebrush associated with Thurber needlegrass, Bluebunch wheatgrass, Bottlebrush Squirreltail, Basin wildrye, Indian ricegrass, Sandberg bluegrass, or needleandthread grass. Major shrubs in salt desert shrub communities include winterfat, shadscale, bucksage, spiny hopsage, greasewood, or Fourwing or Nuttall Salthbush.