Documentary looks at the changing west and the impact its had on the golden eagle - Albuquerque Journal

Documentary looks at the changing west and the impact its had on the golden eagle

An adult female golden eagle is part of the film, “Golden Eagles: Witnesses to a Changing West.” (Courtesy of Wild Excellence Films )

Charles R. Preston has navigated his career one step at a time.

It’s been an incredible journey.

“I’ve been so lucky,” he says of his career. “I have to admit, I’m retired now and doing all the stuff that is really fun for me.”

Before his retirement, Preston was the senior curator of Natural Science at the Draper Natural History Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, Wyoming.

He’s also part of the documentary, “Golden Eagles: Witnesses to a Changing West,” which airs on New Mexico PBS, channel 5.4, at 10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11. It will also stream on the PBS Video app.

The film tells the story of the challenges the birds face and the people working to save them.

Preston says the film tells the story of the stunning golden eagle, a raptor with a seven-foot wingspan and powerful talons that isn’t immune to the challenges of the rapidly changing American West.

Charles R. Preston shows the length of the wingspan of a golden eagle. (Courtesy of Wild Excellence Films)

From climate change to sprawl, invasive species to disease, lead poisoning to energy development, the magnificent birds are under threat from many directions and are a species of serious conservation concern.

“Golden Eagles: Witnesses to a Changing West” takes viewers into the field with Preston, a leading researcher, and his team in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming as they rappel down cliffs into eagle nests to place leg bands on the birds.

“Filming in this wild, underappreciated landscape was a challenge,” said producer and cinematographer David Rohm. “But our footage of golden eagles and the people who dedicate their time to save them makes a strong case for conservation. It’s an honor to be able to tell this story.”

Viewers will also go behind the scenes at wildlife rehabilitation centers where eagles are treated for lead poisoning, and hear stories of Indigenous peoples’ connections to the golden eagle, told by a member of the Crow Nation, Shane Doyle.

“We were excited to be filming these magnificent birds and to be working with such a great, passionate team,” said cinematographer Melissa Rohm. “One of our focuses was filming the banding of golden eagle nestlings. We captured some unique, never-before-seen moments, and we’re looking forward to sharing the eagles’ story with a wide audience. Many people aren’t familiar with golden eagles, but we hope the film will inspire conservation of this magnificent species.”

Preston says he was approached by the Rohms with the project. He took his time in making a decision and interviewed the filmmakers as well.

Baby golden eagles nesting atop a mountain range. (Courtesy of Wild Excellence Films)

“When they approached me, we spent a lot of time talking,” Preston says. “They volunteered so much and I saw how respectful they wold be of the eagles. You can really interfere with eagles and they were aware that we all had to tread lightly. They came out for one field season to watch how we work. It’s become a lifelong relationship between my team and the eagles.”

Preston hopes that an audience will get to see how rapidly the world is changing.

“An apex predator like the golden eagle is important,” he says. “Everything is related to everything else. When I began my career, it was to gain an understanding of the drivers in this ecosystem dynamics in the face of the landscape changes. The golden eagle is in a position to exert a power influence because it is a federally protected species.”

Preston points to when wolves were taken out of Yellowstone National Park, it changed the ecosystem.

“As they were introduced, we began to see the impact on elk in numbers and behaviors,” he says. “The aspens and cottonwoods began to thrive. You get this release of vegetation and the ecosystem begins to flourish because it’s driven from the bottom up.”

Preston says humans have had to coexist with nature since the beginning of time.

“We’re at a point to where we have to pay attention to what we are doing,” he says. “As the human footprint continues to grow in the West, that impacts foraging and the nesting habitat of the golden eagle species.”

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