Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Bluebird of UNHappiness

I wrote to the Nevada Mining Association this week. I’d never even heard of the Nevada Mining Association until I read my new issue of Audubon magazine.

On my ever-growing list of things I never knew (I’ve a friend who sends me news stories nearly every day to which I reply, too frequently and embarrassingly, “I had no idea!”), I can now add “mining markers”—hollow PVC pipes used to indicate a mining claim and operation on public lands in the West.

Sounds innocuous, right? Perhaps an aesthetic blight to some, but otherwise not a problem.

But this is not the case. Birds and lizards are drawn to these markers as potential nesting and roosting sites—or simply places to rest and conserve energy/heat for a bit. Trouble is that once they go in, they can’t get back out. The markers become the animals’ final resting place: death by dehydration or starvation.

Environmentalists have been trying to fix this since 1983. Finally, several years ago, miners were given two years to change the materials they used for these markers; now, after 30 years, it’s legal for anyone to remove the markers. Nevada state wildlife officials jumped into action with conservation groups and started pulling the markers in November 2012, when the new legislation permitted them to do so. Audubon magazine was celebratory over the change and reported that 8,000+ markers have already been pulled. Only 2,992,000+ to go.
“Once, with binoculars, I watched a male American kestrel perched on a post, staring down inside over and over. I avoided him for a while and came back to the post about a half hour later. The male was gone and his recently deceased mate was in the bottom of the post. Given how long it takes for a bird to die of dehydration, I imagine this male had kept vigil for some days, if not weeks.”
—Pete Bradley, Bristlecone Audubon Society conservation chairman
Not every pulled pipe held a dead bird, but some revealed as many as 15—my adopted Mountain Bluebird’s kin among them (this was part of the outcry—the Mountain Bluebird is Nevada’s state bird). With 2,992,000+ more markers to remove, that’s a lot of birds.

Hence my letter to the Nevada Mining Association, whose members include 3M and Halliburton. Obviously, the new legislation isn’t requiring the mining companies to remove their own markers. So I wondered which companies were assuming social responsibility and sending their own crews out to remove markers. Seems like a great PR opportunity, doesn’t it?

I haven’t heard squat from the NMA, but I’ll let you know if I do.

[Photo of marker by Christy Klinger; photo of Kestrel by James Ownby.]

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