What's at Stake
Earthjustice filed a lawsuit to protect migratory birds from the proliferation of FCC communication towers built without environmental review. As a result, the agency must now consider the impact on birds before it approves new towers.
A migratory bird’s flight from winter habitat to summer breeding grounds and back again is already a difficult journey. FCC communication towers turn the journey deadly. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates between 5 and 50 million birds are killed each year as a result of encounters with communication towers.
The situation is especially dire along the Gulf Coast, where thousands of towers dot the 1,000-mile stretch of coastline between Pt. Isabel, Texas and Tampa Bay, Florida. Exhausted from their journey across the Gulf of Mexico, many species of migrating songbirds collide with towers or the accompanying guy wires. In some cases, the birds confuse the blinking lights atop the cell towers with the night stars they use to navigate their journey. The birds become disoriented and begin circling the tower until they collapse from exhaustion and plummet to the ground.
Earthjustice challenged the FCC’s routine of approving dozens of new towers per year without conducting thorough environmental reviews. In 2008, a panel of federal judges ruled that national environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act require the FCC to more carefully consider the possible adverse effects on migrating birds in its tower permitting process.