Proposed FCC Change Could Weaken Rules for Tower Construction

Birds Benefit from Current Lighting Guidelines and Environmental Analysis

Contact: Jennifer Howard, Director of Public Relations, 202-888-7472

(Washington, D.C., June 8, 2017) Members of the Bird Conservation Alliance and national environmental groups have submitted comments stating their opposition to a proposed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that would exempt construction of communication towers from our nation's environmental laws. The comments reflect the groups' concern over potential negative impacts the rule change could have on birds and on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other bedrock environmental laws.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a frequent victim of collisions with communication towers. Photo by Paul Sparks

“Bird conservation groups are strongly opposed to exempting towers from environmental analysis,” said Steve Holmer, American Bird Conservancy's Vice President of Policy and Director of the BCA. “Millions of birds are harmed by colliding with towers each year, and other species avoid tall structures such as towers because they serve as perches for predators,” Holmer said.

As the letter states, the FCC has considered communication towers to be subject to NEPA for the last 43 years. As a result, current protocols for environmental analysis are used to protect at-risk species when new towers are built; for example, taking the needs of Greater Sage-Grouse into consideration in tower siting. Sage-grouse are among the species that avoid tall structures and lose use of nearby sagebrush habitat when towers are placed nearby.

Exempting towers from environmental review would have other negative effects as well. “Without NEPA, the public loses its ability to comment on proposed tower locations, or to ask that the environmental risks those towers pose to migratory birds or species of conservation concern be minimized,” said Holmer.

Bird conservationists are also concerned about changes to recently adopted lighting guidelines to help reduce the number of birds that die at towers—an estimated 7 million birds every year. The new lighting standards can reduce collisions by as much as 70 percent while also reducing energy costs.

“We are making great progress to reduce risks to migratory birds from outdated lighting on existing towers,” said Holmer. “We appreciate that hundreds of tower operators have already adopted the new standards, and urge the operators of the remaining towers to change their lights to save birds and to save energy.”


American Bird Conservancy is dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.


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