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Bird Deaths From NatGas Flares, Oil Pits to Be Addressed in FWS Proposal

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) intends to strengthen the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to address threats from natural gas flares, uncovered oil waste pits and unprotected power lines and communication towers, the agency said Friday.

The FWS said it intends to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act. The pre-publication version was issued Friday [FWS-HQ-2014-0067].

The PEIS is to "to address millions of grisly and unnecessary bird deaths," the Interior agency said. "The process will address threats like uncovered oil waste pits that trap and kill birds, gas flares that lure and incinerate birds, and unprotected communication towers and power lines that kill and electrocute birds by the tens of millions each year."

The proposed rulemaking may include "various approaches to regulating incidental take of migratory birds," including issuing general incidental take authorizations for some type of hazards  to birds associated with particular industry sectors.

Incidental take permits may be issued by FWS under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to private, non-federal entities that are undertaking lawful projects that may result in the take of an endangered or threatened species. A take, as defined by the ESA, means "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct."

FWS said the proposed PEIS also may provide:

  • Individual permits to be issued authorizing incidental take from particular projects or activities;
  • Memoranda of understanding with federal agencies authorizing incidental take from those agencies' operations and activities; and
  • Voluntary guidance for industry sectors regarding operational techniques or technologies to avoid or minimize incidental take.

The rulemaking would establish "appropriate standards" to ensure that when there is an incidental take of migratory birds, it is "appropriately mitigated, which may include requiring measures to avoid or minimize take or securing compensation."

According to the National Audubon Society, no reliable mortality estimates exist for bird deaths from gas flares. However, it pointed to a 2013 incident in Canada, where an estimated 7,500 birds were incinerated. Oil waste pits are estimated to cause the death of 500,000 to 1 million birds a year. Power lines result in up to 175 million bird deaths a year.

"Every day, countless death traps across America needlessly kill birds in horrible ways, from electrocution to drowning in oil -- we're talking about tens of millions of birds every year," said Audubon President David Yarnold. "There is hope. In many cases, the tools and technology to save birds have already been developed...Protecting wildlife is a deeply held American value, and we know that when we do the right things for birds, we’re doing the right things for people too."

Congress enacted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act almost 100 years ago in 1918 following a public outcry over the mass slaughter of birds, which threatened egrets and other species. The law prohibits killing or harming American birds except under certain conditions, including managed hunting seasons for game species. The law protects more than 1,000 bird species, according to the Audubon Society.

Comments would be taken on the proposal up to 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, scheduled for Tuesday (May 26). The FWS plans to have scoping open houses on June 16 in Sacramento, CA; June 18, Denver; June 30, St. Louis; and July 2, Arlington, VA. A webinar for the public also is planned for July 8. Additional information would be available at www.birdregs.org.

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