RENO, Nev. – Federal land managers have adopted a new policy aimed at capping pipes and plastic tubes on public lands that annually lead to the unintentional deaths of up to 100,000 cavity-dwelling birds, reptiles and animals that think they’ve found a safe, new home.
The effort includes the vent pipes on campground outhouses but the target is the millions of PVC pipes that were used for decades to stake mining claims across the West under the General Mining Act of 1872.
Once inside, the cavity nesters, rodents and others often are unable to scratch their way back out because the plastic walls are too slick.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze said the executive memorandum he issued to BLM field offices on Thursday requires agency personnel to identify and cap or screen survey markers, pipes, vents, signposts, fences and other structures.
“This is a small change that will make a big difference,” Kornze said. “Too often birds, bats, lizards, snakes and small mammals find themselves unable to escape from pipes and vents.”
The American Bird Conservancy and others have been pushing for the change for years.
Mining companies started utilizing the PVC pipes with 4- to 6-inch diameters as cheaper, more visible alternatives to traditional wooden stakes about 40 years ago.
A Nevada law passed in 1993 prohibited the installation of uncapped pipes for marking mining claim boundaries, but didn’t address those already in place.
As of 2014, BLM had recorded 3.5 million mining claims on land it manages in 12 western states – defined by markers on each of the four corners of the individual claims. Nevada has the most with 1.1 million claims, followed by Utah, 412,000; Wyoming, 314,000, California, 311,000; and Colorado, 285,000.
A recent examination of 854 pipes found 879 dead birds – an average of more than one per pipe – as well as 113 reptiles and mammals, said Steve Holmer, senior policy adviser for the American Bird Conservancy. The ash-throated flycatcher and mountain bluebird were the most frequent victims, but other species commonly trapped included woodpeckers, sparrows, shrikes, kestrels and owls.
A many as 30 bird mortalities were recorded in a single pipe during a similar study in Oregon in 2011, he said.
More than 100 conservation groups joined the conservancy last year in a letter to the BLM and U.S. Forest Service urging an accelerated response to the problem.
The new order doesn’t mandate any action on the part of mining companies or others with BLM permits, but Kornze said it provides guidance and assistance for those willing to take voluntary action.
“This is a positive step in the right direction,” Holmer said. “The threat of open pipes can be easily prevented and today’s action moves us closer to solving this problem.”
Luke Popovich, vice president of the National Mining Association, said most mining companies stopped using the pipes years ago.
“Our industry has been a voluntary partner with BLM to address what is essentially a legacy issue and no longer practiced,” Popovich said on Friday. “In fact, we are cited by BLM on a brochure as a partner in this migratory bird program.”
Dana Bennett, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said that since 2009 her group has worked with the BLM and mine permittees to replace or remove nearly 15,000 hollow markers.
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