Mining Claim Markers Cause Millions of Bird Deaths in Nevada

Mining Claim Markers Cause Millions of Bird Deaths in Nevada

American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation organization, today called on the federal government to take action to eliminate the massive avian mortality threat posed by the continued use of uncapped metal or PVC mining claim marker pipes on public lands in the West.

In a letter to Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey and U.S.D.A Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, ABC Vice President for Conservation Advocacy, Darin Schroeder says that “Field activities by state and federal staff suggest that such pipes have caused the deaths of perhaps millions of birds, and their continued use in the face of these revelations must be rectified to avoid continued violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”

mining claim markers
A mining claim marker with the cap blown off – photo by Christy Klinger.

Small birds often see the opening of mining claim pipe markers as a hollow suitable for nesting. The birds enter the holes only to become trapped because the walls of the pipes do not allow them to extend their wings and fly out and are too smooth to allow them to grapple their way up the sides. In Nevada, death from dehydration or starvation in the hot, dry desert climate soon follows.

Western Screech Owl
Western Screech Owl

Recent examination of 854 pipes revealed 879 killed birds (as well as 113 reptiles and 20 mammals) – an average of more than one bird mortality per pipe. Given that there are in excess of one million federal mining claims in the state of Nevada, this could mean a million or more dead birds in that state alone.

A mining claim marker with the cap blown off
A mining claim marker with the cap blown off

Of the 43 species of birds so far recovered from the markers, by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, most are cavity nesters. The Ash-throated Flycatcher and the Mountain Bluebird were the most frequent victims, but others commonly trapped included woodpeckers, sparrows, shrikes, kestrels, and owls.
Nevada’s mining industry is one of the biggest in the United States, producing over $5.8 billion in mineral material in 2009. With over 80 percent of Nevada land being federally owned – the highest of any state – BLM oversees most of the mining operations in the state. The state of Nevada, however, administers issues related to boundary markings.

Ladder back Woodpeckers Christy Klinger2
Ladder-back Woodpeckers found dead in mining claim marker pipes – photo by Christy Klinger.

A 1993 Nevada law prohibits installation of new uncapped or uncrimped pipes for marking the boundaries of mining claims in an effort to prevent injury to wildlife. However, about half of the protective caps that have been installed on markers since then have become displaced, thereby re-establishing the hazard from the pipes. Although a subsequent law ruled that stakes without caps or crimps would no longer be recognized as claim boundary markers, this did nothing to address the countless stakes that remain in place from old or abandoned claims that continue to kill birds.

While Nevada has a large mining industry, the issue goes well beyond that state’s borders to a number of other mining states, and is a potentially significant source of bird mortality in this country.

mining claim bird deaths
Mining Claim Bird Deaths

According to the BLM publication Public Land Statistics, in 2010, there were 3,388,400 mining claims on record on BLM-managed lands in 11 contiguous western states and Alaska. Following Nevada, the states with the highest number of federal mining claims are Utah, with 401,828, Wyoming (which includes minimal numbers from Nebraska) with 306,588, California, with 300,809, and Colorado with 278,326.

“While there have been some efforts by local, federal, and state agencies to address the problem, these have been wholly inadequate, and have allowed bird deaths to continue to mount up over the last two decades. Given the enormous scale of the issue, a comprehensive, long-term, federal solution is required. Mining claimants need to be held accountable for their stakes through federal regulatory action that requires them to remove their hazardous markers or face fines under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” Schroeder says in the letter.

The letter calls on the Federal agencies to “…..reduce the needless mortality of millions of birds across the United States, and to establish a way to require states not to use uncapped or otherwise hazardous pipe as markers for mining claims and sites.”

This article was written and published by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a 501(c) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.

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