Most people would say that living next to an Army plant that tests ways to destroy deadly chemical weapons is for the birds.
The hawks, owls and eagles in Rush Valley would agree.In fact, one of the most popular nests for them in the West Desert is atop a platform that Army employees built just a few thousand feet from the Chemical Agents Munitions Disposal System plant (AMDS, pronounced "kam-diss"). It is at Tooele Army Depot's South Area.
For the past two years, a pair of rough-legged hawks and their chicks have made the nest their home. In other years, it was inhabited by red-tailed hawks, owls and golden eagles.
The nest has become a symbol that Army officers hold up to critics watching them with eagle eyes, to demonstrate how safe operations at CAMDS are. The nest even had prominent mention in an Army slide show given to a Soviet delegation last year to explain CAMDS operations and safety techniques.
After that presentation mentioned how Tooele has never had a lost work day because of a chemical accident, it added, "Even a nest built years ago on a nearby power pole has been used by several varieties of birds. Pairs of hawks, eagles and owls have raised their offspring to maturity overlooking the CAMDS plant."
When the Deseret News visited the nest to take pictures of the chicks, Tooele Public Affairs Officer Susan Voss added other reasons why the Army is proud of the nest.
"We like it not only for the environmental reasons - providing a place for the birds to live - but also when you consider the birds are small animals, a release of chemical agent would kill them before it would kill us. When we see them flying around, we know the plant is safe. They are also fascinating to watch."
Fascination with birds is why CAMDS employees built a platform between two telephone poles to allow construction of a nest about six years ago, said Clint Price, a civilian employee who has been watching the nest for years.
"There aren't many trees around here. So the platform was a natural to attract raptors. Once the platform was built, the birds moved right in," he said. "It seems like every year it's first come, first served."
Some of the reasons the nest may be popular with the birds is that its high perch allows a view of miles of desert. Plenty of rabbits that provide food live nearby. And Army fences and armed guards keep human hunters miles away.
The only signs of possible threats to the birds are CAMDS and a nearby compound of storage igloos that house chemical weapons.
The rough-legged hawks now living in the nest are used to their surroundings. Constantly passing Army vehicles do not bother them, nor do loudspeakers broadcasting messages at the nearby CAMDS plant.
Only when the Deseret News approached with a mechanical lift did the mother hawk fly from the nest, constantly circling and crying at the photographer as he took pictures of the chicks.
The current residents of the nest may be unique in ways besides living next to a chemical arms destruction plant. Price said they appear to be rough-legged hawks, but books say that bird isn't supposed to nest in Utah - which it is - and wasn't supposed to nest until mid-May, but this pair started a few weeks early.
"They aren't exactly pets, but everyone has got to know the birds and everyone likes to see how they are doing," he said.
Maybe that's especially because they would die before humans if an accident ever occurs at CAMDS. As long as they are flying, the humans nearby are safe.