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Conservationists Fight in Court to Enforce Protections for Migrating and Endangered Birds

Millions of birds die annually in collisions with cellular and television towers
April 8, 2005
Washington, D.C. —

Conservation groups today filed a petition in federal court to see action from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to protect millions of birds killed annually in collisions with telephone, radio, cellular and other communications towers nationwide. FCC has refused to implement guidelines that will protect bird populations and limit needless killings occurring every day.

Earthjustice, on behalf of American Bird Conservancy and Forest Conservation Council, filed a petition in the United States Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit that seeks a court order directing FCC to respond to this problem. In August 2002, American Bird Conservancy and Forest Conservation Council filed a request with FCC to comply with applicable federal laws when licensing these towers for construction. FCC has since offered no response, and millions of birds have died as a result.

"Every day that FCC avoids dealing with this problem, thousands of birds are killed," said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez. "There are relatively simple efforts that can be taken to reduce these deaths and protect these species, but nothing substantial is being done."

American Bird Conservancy has compiled data showing thousands of communications towers in a 1,000-mile stretch of the Gulf Coast region, from Pt. Isabel, Texas to Tampa Bay, Florida. Towers along this major migratory bird route threaten many different bird species, some of which are already dwindling in numbers due to habitat loss and poorly planned growth.

"The more tan 5,200 towers in the Gulf Coast region are avian death traps in a major migratory area," said Gavin Shire, spokesman for American Bird Conservancy. "Many of the birds most commonly killed—neotropical migratory songbirds such as warblers, vireos, and thrushes—are already in decline, and this added mortality to protected species must be addressed."

Federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act provide specific guidelines for licensing structures such as these towers in order to protect species and limit damage to natural areas and wildlife habitat. FCC has clearly violated these guidelines, approving dozens of new towers each year with little or no environmental review.

"The unregulated jumble of communications towers littering the coastal forests, wetlands, farmlands and barrier islands of the gulf coast are killing millions of migratory birds each year," said John Talberth, Forest Conservation Council's Director of Conservation. "Our lawsuit is another step in a broader campaign to reform the haphazard and illegal way the FCC and the communications industry do business, and to bring the public into the decision-making process."

Towers are often well lit at night, which becomes disorienting for migrating flocks. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended guidelines to implement that would reduce bird fatalities, but FCC has refused to implement them. These guidelines—keeping towers below 200 feet where possible to avoid the need for lighting, using only strobe lights where lighting is necessary, and keeping towers unguyed—could reduce bird deaths significantly.

A copy of the brief can be found here.

American Bird Conservancy (www.abcbirds.org) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, whose mission is to conserve native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. It is the only U.S.-based, group dedicated solely to overcoming the greatest threats facing birds in the Western Hemisphere.

Forest Conservation Council works to protect and restore the native biological diversity of forests and woodlands throughout the United States. The Council's Green Spaces Initiative Program seeks to reform the permitting processes of federal agencies like the FCC to minimize the impacts of highways, energy facilities, communication infrastructure, ports, and other forms of urban development on natural habitats and the species that rely on these habitats for survival.

 

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Contacts

Steve Roady, Jennifer Chavez, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500

Gavin Shire, American Bird Conservancy (202) 234-7181 x205

John Talberth, Forest Conservation Council (505) 986-1163

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.