Climbers Partner with Park Service to Protect Zion’s Peregrine Falcons

Zion National Park in southwest Utah is a premier destination for sandstone big wall climbing, with classic routes that draw climbers from around the world. Zion’s big walls are also home to a large population of Peregrine Falcons, which breed on the cliffs each spring and summer. To help protect these magnificent birds of prey, climbers have teamed up with the National Park Service to monitor nesting raptors to ensure a thriving population.

Climbers monitoring raptor activity in Zion National Park, ancestral lands of the Southern Paiute and Pueblos.

Peregrine Falcons were listed as an Endangered Species in 1970, after a sharp decline due primarily to DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), an insecticide which caused the birds to produce thin-shelled eggs that were easily broken, killing the developing embryo inside. The US government banned DDT in 1972, and North American peregrine populations began to rebound, thanks in part to the success of captive breeding programs and peregrine conservation efforts by the climbing community. The species was delisted as an Endangered Species in 1999, but remains a species of concern for federal and state agencies. Zion National Park has been and continues to be an important sanctuary for peregrines and many other wildlife species.

Each year, park staff implement seasonal climbing closures to prevent disturbances to breeding pairs, based on historical data of when peregrines typically arrive and which cliffs they tend to establish nests on. Those cliffs are then monitored to determine if active nest sites are established, and those cliffs without active nesting sites are reopened, typically by late April or early May. Cliffs that have active nest sites are monitored until the chicks fledge, usually in late July, after which the cliffs are reopened to climbing.

The park actively works to monitor and reopen climbing areas as soon as possible, however they are limited in staff time and resources to conduct frequent surveys. To help fill this need, local climbers have stepped up to monitor peregrine falcon nests and provide more eyes on the rocks.

“The climber-biologist partnership in Zion has demonstrated that conservation and climbing can be closely integrated with results that are beneficial to both parties,” says Janice Stroud-Settles, Zion National Park Wildlife Program Manager.

“The climber-biologist partnership in Zion has demonstrated that conservation and climbing can be closely integrated with results that are beneficial to both parties,” says Janice Stroud-Settles, Zion National Park Wildlife Program Manager. “The local rock climbers of Zion had a tremendous impact on improving the efficiency of our 2019 peregrine falcon nesting surveys, lending more eyes to search the sky and cliff faces for those fast-flying falcons. The climbers who participated showed great patience, determination, and diligence during these surveys.”

With help from climbers, Zion National Park was able to reopen seven cliffs during the collaborative survey: Mountain Of the Sun,The Sentinel, East Temple, Mt. Spry, Streaked Wall, North Twin Brother and Mt. Kinesava. This was a huge accomplishment that highlights the talent and openness of the park to work with the community to help achieve a mutual goal.

Public land managers often lack staff time and resources to adequately monitor and collect data on raptor activity, relying instead on longer and larger closures to ensure raptors are adequately protected. More and more, climbers and avid birders across the United States are stepping up as citizen scientists to support land managers with raptor monitoring, helping to provide real-time data that allows refined closure areas, quicker reopening of areas without active nest sites, and better data to help in future management planning.

“Access Fund partners with land managers and biologists to develop basic guidelines and forms to help climbers get started with raptor monitoring programs at their home crags,” says Katie Goodwin, California Regional Director at Access Fund. “These types of partnerships create stronger relationships between land managers and local climbers, as they work together to protect our public lands and the wildlife that find sanctuary there.”

The climbers who participated in the 2019 raptor monitoring at Zion have come together, in partnership with Southern Utah Climbers Alliance (SUCA), to form a local chapter now known as the Zion Climbing Coalition. Stay tuned for more updates as the Zion Climbing Coalition kicks into gear! Visit here for information.

For up-to-date information on the status and maps of seasonal raptor closures at Zion National Park, please consult the Zion National Park website. Climbers are responsible for checking the specific maps of the closed areas. The website will be continuously updated as cliffs are reopened. Learn more about how climbers can help protect cliff nesting raptors.