Petitioners Urge Federal Communications Commission To Protect Millions Of Migratory Birds

Published: Apr 14, 2009
Washington, DC - 
Conservation organizations and concerned citizens are petitioning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to address the killing of millions of migratory birds from collisions with the more than 100,000 communications towers throughout the United States. American Bird Conservancy, National Audubon Society, and Defenders of Wildlife filed a petition with the FCC today asking the agency to adopt new rules to comply with federal environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, in order to ensure that the impact of towers on migratory birds is properly considered and addressed in agency decisions. The groups are also delivering over 15,000 petitions to the regulatory agency signed by citizens concerned for threatened wildlife. 

"We urge the FCC to respond to the scientific evidence that millions of migratory birds are being killed every year by communications towers, and act swiftly to release rules that can halt this needless carnage," said George Fenwick, President of American Bird Conservancy.
An American Bird Conservancy report analyzing documented tower kills lists 230 species – over one third of all avian species found in the United States – that are known to be killed at towers, including many species of conservation concern such as the Blackpoll Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. 

The vast majority of bird mortality occurs during fall and spring when night-migrating birds are attracted in large flocks to the aviation safety lights on towers. The lights, especially red solid-state or slow pulsing lights, interfere with the birds' celestial navigation cues, particularly during poor visibility conditions such as rain and fog. Confused, the birds fly around the towers repeatedly, crashing into one another, the tower, its guy wires, or the ground. Others simply drop from exhaustion. FCC Commissioners have recognized that this is a serious problem, resulting in the release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in November 2006, but the FCC has yet to release a proposed rule. 

"Our communications network needn't be a death sentence for birds," said Audubon Chief Scientist Dr. Thomas Bancroft. "The FCC needs to take action now to make communications towers safe for birds as well as for human aviation."

In February 2008, a federal court of appeals ordered the FCC to carefully evaluate the potential adverse effects of communications towers on migratory bird populations of the Gulf Coast region. A panel of federal judges ruled that national environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act require the FCC to more carefully consider these possible adverse effects in its tower permitting process. 

"The FCC has been aware of this problem for at least ten years. Now more than a year after the court clearly found the Commission in violation of federal environmental law when it comes to migratory birds, still no progress has been made," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president for Defenders of Wildlife. "The commission should stop dragging its feet and take action to implement rules that address this significant conservation issue."
These specific rules would include procedures for consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding species listed under the Endangered Species Act and considering the effects of communications towers on migratory birds under the National Environmental Policy Act. The groups also call for the FCC to develop an environmental impact statement considering the effects of communications towers on birds and methods to reduce bird losses on a national basis.
A copy of the groups' petition is available here 

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) works to conserve native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts to safeguard the rarest bird species, restore habitats, and reduce threats, while building capacity in the conservation movement. ABC is a 501(c)(3) membership organization that is consistently awarded a top, four-star rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator. More at www.abcbirds.org

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

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The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.

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