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PVC pipes trapping, killing birds by the thousands


Nevada Department of Wildlife

Hundreds of dead birds that were found inside Nevada mining claim markers are displayed.

Armed with a legal provision that took effect this month, a bird conservation group is urging state residents to pull out thousands of old mining claim markers made out of PVC to prevent more birds from entering what look like nests, but which instead are thin, slippery death traps.

"It is certainly possible and perhaps even likely that a million or more birds have needlessly died in these pipes," George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy, said in a statement issued Tuesday. That number is based on Nevada having more than one million mining claims on federal land.

The legal provision enables "anyone to pull up claim marker stakes that are improperly set and act as bird-killing traps," the group stated. Having taken effect on Nov. 1, the provision is part of a 2009 law that invalidated any claim with an open-ended marker.

Nevada Department of Wildlife

Mining claim markers like these are death traps for birds.

"Small birds often see the opening of the pipe markers as a hollow suitable for nesting," it added. "After perching on the pipes, the birds then enter the hole 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. Death from dehydration or starvation in the hot, dry Nevada desert climate then soon follows. Other animals such as lizards also meet the same fate."

The most frequent victims are ash-throated flycatchers and mountain bluebirds, the group said, while other species include woodpeckers, sparrows, shrikes, kestrels, and owls.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife and the federal Bureau of Land Management earlier this month spent four days removing old markers and plan more removals soon.

Nevada Department of Wildlife

The cap had come off this marker post.

A troubling find was that "about half of those markers that had protective caps put in place at some earlier point in time, now had those caps displaced, on the ground nearby," said state biologist Christy Klinger. "So the hazard from the pipe became re-established."

Fenwick also worries that the state law "provides no meaningful enforcement provisions."

"It is encouraging that we are seeing efforts by local, federal, and state agencies to address the problem," Fenwick said. "However, given the enormous scale of the issue, long-term solutions are required. While Nevada has a large mining industry, the issue goes well beyond their borders to a number of other mining states. Mining claim holders need to be held accountable for their stakes through federal regulatory action: remove your hazardous markers or face fines under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act."

The Nevada Mining Association, for its part, said it supports the law.

"The Nevada Mining Association was pleased to support legislation in the early 90s to outlaw the use of hollow claim markers, and since that time, our members have taken the appropriate steps to replace hollow markers with monuments that cause no threat to birds or other wildlife," association President Tim Crowley told msnbc.com. 

"We understand that despite the original law change there were still large numbers of hollow markers throughout the state," he added. "Therefore, the NVMA was once again pleased to support legislation in 2009 allowing for any remaining hollow markers to be pulled from the ground and laid next to their original location."