migratory birds

Brown pelicans delisted -- now what?

Hey folks, this was supposed to post yesterday, but...here goes.

I grew up playing in the water of the Gulf of Mexico, where I watched brown pelicans dive for mullet -- the same mullet my grampa and I liked to catch.  We had our cast nets fringed with weights.  The pelicans had their mighty beaks and amazing expanding throats.  Game on.

But it wasn't my grampa's mullet-catching prowess that nearly did the brown pelican in.  No, it was DDT, a pesticide that weakened brown pelican eggs so much that they couldn't hatch.

Anyone who's seen a pelican flatten itself into a three-pronged bullet before plunging into the water can attest to the bird's glory, which was nearly decimated by the chemicals draining from the fields of our great nation.

Banning DDT in 1972 helped take the brown pelican off the endangered species list from Texas to Florida in the mid 1980s, but it took another two decades for Southern California's brown pelican population to recover enough to get off that list -- yesterday.  Protecting the pelican's nesting sites and habitat also helped its recuperation.

Government officials and environmentalists alike hailed the endangered species act's success in bringing brown pelicans back from the brink of extinction.

Alberta tar sands energy firm pleads not guilty in birds' deaths

Syncrude, an Alberta oil sands giant, pleaded not guilty Monday in the deaths of approximately 1,600 ducks in one of its tailings ponds in April 2008, reports Sarah O'Donnell in the Edmonton Journal. The migrating ducks landed in a pond near Fort McMurray, were coated in oil residue, and sank to the bottom. Only eight survived, five of which went to Edmonton's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. The remaining three were released. The deaths in what's also known as the Alberta tar sands region violate the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. Syncrude says it is doing all it can to make avoid a repeat case. Syncrude lawyer Robert White had this to say:

Syncrude is not above the law. However, the law has recognized for a long time that when people do their best to avoid something, that isn't a matter for charges. That is a matter of fix-up... And it is not possible for anybody to do more than Syncrude has done to ensure it never happens again.

The company is still fighting the charges.

North of Fort McMurray, Greenpeace activists have seized a giant dump truck and shovel from Shell's Albian Sands open-pit-mine, reports Richard Warnica in the Edmonton Journal. More than 25 people chained together pickup trucks to block off the dump truck, then climbed to the top and chained themselves down. Spokesman Mike Hudema says the group is prepared to stay until people listen to the message proclaimed on its banner: "Tar Sands: Climate Crime." The protest comes one day before Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's meeting with U.S.

Competitive birdwatching attracts people and pollution

As the fall season descends on the Northwest, migratory birds from as far as the Arctic begin maneuvering their way down the West Coast in search of balmier climates. With that winged drove comes a flurry of another kind of visitor - birdwatchers, who sometimes travel long distances to simply sit and watch.

In Oregon, the annual migration of Vaux's swifts has been attracting a crowd that is rapidly turning the nightly spectacle into a rowdy event, complete with "blankets, booze and boorish behavior," writesLisa Grace Lednicer of the Oregonian. She writes:

The birdwatchers block driveways, leave behind empty pizza boxes and generally make a nuisance of themselves.

While the Audubon Society of Portland has promoted the event, including providing traffic cones and working with a local park to supply parking, nearly 3,000 birders arrived on Pettygrove Street last year to see the birds, making for an unruly experience.

Nearly one fifth of America actively participates in bird watching, and that includes 20 million taking trips one mile or more away from their home for the purpose of viewing birds, according to a report released in June by the United States Fish and Wildlife.

But a recent study by an Illinois professor -- and avid bird watcher -- suggests that the sport  may not be as environmentally friendly as it seems. In an article in the News Bureau of Illinois, Professor Spencer Schaffner suggests that birders' competitive aspirations of tracking down rare birds has led to an "automotive-hobby culture" reliant upon fossil fuel transportation and lacking interest in conservation.

ExxonMobil's guilty plea -- a step toward protecting migratory birds?

Exxon Mobil Corp. pleaded guilty today in the deaths of 85 protected migratory birds, most of which died after landing in or ingesting oily waste in the firm’s natural gas well reserve pits and wastewater storage facilities, reports the Associated Press. A violation of the international Migratory Bird Treaty Act, ExxonMobil  has agreed to pay $600,000 in fines, or around $7,000 per bird.

The battle between waste storage sites and migratory bird routes is a national dilemma, with major bird flyways stretching up and down the continent and spanning the globe. While the birds that died under ExxonMobil’s watch perished in drilling and production facilities in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming, there are similar tales panning out across the West. (Readers: We're working to understand the condition of the Pacific Flyway. If you know about this, please e-mail me at nwalker (at) invw.org.)

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, residents and tribe members have been battling state and federal agencies, who plan to use a local repository as a dumping site for nearly 40,000 truckloads of soil contaminated with heavy metals, a byproduct of a century of mining pollution, reports Becky Kramer of The Spokesman-Review. Besides concerns about storing the toxic waste in an area that floods regularly and fear that the 30-feet high dumps may obstruct the views of Cataldo Mission, a National Historic Landmark, the site resides just 3,000 feet from a river and a thriving wetland.