A graduate student has found 16 Mexican spotted owls tucked away in remote canyons in this southern Utah park.
The research project is one of many under way in Zion and in other national parks in Utah.The reclusive owl, a relative of a subspecies found in the Northwest, has been the subject of a two-year project by Sarah Rinkevich, a Humbolt State University master's student.
Park naturalist Timothy Manns said Rinkevich was hired as a seasonal park employee to continue her research, which complements similar projects at Capitol Reef and Canyonlands.
The owls feed mostly on wood rats and can live up to 25 years. Manns said he has yet to see one since he arrived at Zion two years ago.
Park Resource Management Specialist Vic Vieira said the National Park Service has expanded its effort to determine the bird's locations by conducting research in Zion, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks.
He said a proposal for an expanded collective biological study is under way. The Park Service is also cooperating with the Bureau of Land Management on wildlife studies because the animal and plant habitat being studied overlaps into BLM jurisdiction.
The species inventory will be coordinated by BLM official Steve Hedges in Cedar City under a cooperative agreement.
Vieira said the federal agencies will be looking at the impact recreational hiking may have on owls.
But Manns said the owls are found in remote locations that are all but inaccessible to people, and the potential impact is minimal.
In other research, Zion park employee Chuck Hutchins also will monitor peregrine falcons to see how many young fledge from the nests.
"I think the wildlife are important to the park experience that visitors have," Manns said. "While it's enjoyable to see wildlife in Zion, simply knowing they are here is just as important as actually seeing them."