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Very Large Number of Birds May Be Killed

…by Open Pipes on Western Landscape says new study

Western Bluebirds and Nine Official State Birds among the Victims

(Washington, D.C., October 9, 2014)

Open pipes, widely used for a variety of purposes across the western U.S. landscape, have been reported as a “potentially very large” source of bird mortality, according to research by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The finding was part of a peer-reviewed study accepted for publication by the “Western North American Naturalist” and authored by Charles D. Hathcock and Jeanne M. Fair.

“Based on these preliminary findings … open bollards and pipes pose a potentially large-scale threat to birds, and research on the impacts of this threat, especially to cavity-nesting birds, should be encouraged and considered in management plans,” the scientists said.

The study looked at pipes in three circumstances and documented cases of the pipes causing bird deaths in northern New Mexico. In one study area, the scientists looked at a 25,303-acre site at LANL on the Pajarito Plateau on the eastern flanks of the Jemez Mountains. More than 100 uncapped, 4-inch open bollards (short posts) were examined. About 27, or more than 25 percent, of the open pipes contained dead birds. Also within LANL, the scientists looked at 88 open pipes used to anchor gates. These pipes had diameters of 3.5 inches or 4 inches, and 11 percent contained dead birds.

In the third scenario, the scientists conducted a preliminary assessment of open pipes on gates along a highway on federal land north of LANL; 14 percent of these open pipes contained dead birds. This gate configuration—with open pipes anchoring the gate on either side—is very common in the western United States.

Western Bluebirds accounted for 61 percent of the identifiable affected bird species. Other species identified included: Ash-throated Flycatcher, Acorn Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee, House Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Western Scrub-Jay.

“This study validates the concerns American Bird Conservancy has expressed to federal officials for several years,” said Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Advisor for ABC. “The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues to coordinate efforts to pull old mining stakes and the USDA Forest Service is fixing outhouse pipes that are trapping birds. But as this study shows, every open pipe may be a threat. Many existing pipes still need to be capped or removed, and new engineering and building standards are urgently needed by all land management agencies to prevent the use of open pipes in the future.”

While the study analyzed metal pipes used as gateposts, very similar plastic or PVC versions are also widely used to mark corners or boundaries on over 3.5 million mining claims administered by the BLM. Nevada has the most mining claims with almost 1.1 million, followed by Utah with 412,000, Wyoming with 313,000, California with about 311,000, and Colorado with about 285,000.

A 1993 Nevada law prohibited installation of deadly, uncapped or uncrimped pipes for marking the boundaries of mining claims that typically include such minerals as gold, silver, lead, copper, and zinc. However, the law did not require old pipes to be removed. A subsequent 2009 Nevada law made any claim still marked with open-ended pipe no longer valid. The legislature also included a citizen provision that became effective on November 1, 2013, which allows anyone to pull up open pipe markers and deposit them on the ground.

Federal officials have documented through surveys of installed pipes that a single PVC pipe in Nevada killed 26 birds and a single pipe in Oregon killed 32 birds. Small birds apparently see the opening of PVC pipes used to mark mining claims as a hollow suitable for roosting or nesting or possibly a place to gather to pool body heat during migration. The birds enter the holes, only to become trapped because the walls are too smooth and/or narrow to permit the birds to escape.

“BLM is to be commended for organizing pipe-pulling programs and increasing awareness of the issue with public outreach and wildlife training programs. Now the agency needs to deal with this issue on a larger scale and take preventative actions to end this unacceptable toll on western bird populations,” Holmer said.

Official state birds from at least nine western states have so far been killed by deadly mining claim markers: Cactus Wren (AZ), Mountain Bluebird (ID), Western Meadowlark (KS, MT, NE, ND, OR, WY), and Mountain Bluebird (NV).

9th October 2014