Over 100 Groups Call on Feds to Step up Efforts to Remove Deadly Threat to Birds at More Than 3 Million Mining Claims

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Western Bluebird, Wildphoto 3/Shutterstock

Western Bluebird, Wildphoto 3/Shutterstock

(Washington, D.C., June 24, 2015) PVC pipes used to mark boundaries at over 3 million mining claims and other pipes are deadly traps for birds, say more than 100 groups in a joint letter to the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Agriculture Department's Forest Service (FS). In the letter, the groups call on the two agencies to accelerate efforts to address this longstanding threat to birds at mining claims they govern.

According to the June 22 letter, small birds often see the opening of PVC mining claim markers and other pipes — such as fence or gate posts — 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. Death from dehydration or starvation soon follows.

“Much work remains to be done to remove existing hazards, and long-term policies and procedures still need to be established to prevent this form of bird mortality from continuing to occur on public lands in the future,” the letter says.

The groups are asking the federal agencies to eliminate the problem and meet the respective agencies' responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Executive Order 13186.

The groups specifically ask BLM and FS to take three key actions:

  • Issue national policy directives to remove or modify existing pipes, and to delineate standards to prevent use of open pipes in the future.
  • Initiate a federal rulemaking to require that mining claim holders replace pipes that can cause mortality and to require non-hazardous markers on all current and future claims.
  • Dedicate sufficient resources annually to educate mine claim holders, to coordinate and carry out partnership efforts to remove pipes, and to carry out necessary infrastructure improvements on the Public Lands and National Forest Systems.

According to the BLM publication Public Land Statistics, in 2014 there were 3.5 million mining claims on record on BLM-managed lands in 11 contiguous western states and Alaska.  Nevada had the most with 1.1 million claims, followed by Utah, with 412,000; Wyoming (which includes minimal numbers from Nebraska), with 314,000; California, with 311,000; and Colorado, with 285,000.

One examination of 854 pipes revealed 879 dead birds (as well as 113 reptiles and 20 mammals) – an average of more than one bird death per pipe.  Of the 43 species of birds 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.

This threat to birds has been documented from Oregon to New Mexico. In November 2011, BLM specialists in Oregon documented alarming rates of bird mortality at claims in the Burns area with one stating in his written report that the toll to birds “…could be enormous…a single uncapped, vertical PVC cylinder can potentially entrap and kill dozens of native birds from multiple species.” Pipe-pulling efforts have so far documented as many as 26 and 30 bird mortalities in a single pipe.

In their letter, the concerned groups recognized that some efforts have already been undertaken to mitigate the threat, such as BLM's creation of a flyer endorsed by partners that include American Bird Conservancy and the National Mining Association. This flyer will be mailed to mine claim holders, alerting them to the problem and urging them to replace or remediate hazardous markers. Meanwhile, Forest Service staff are covering open vent pipes on outhouses that were trapping birds.


American Bird Conservancy is the Western Hemisphere's bird conservation specialist—the only organization with a single and steadfast commitment to achieving conservation results for native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With a focus on efficiency and working in partnership, we take on the toughest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on sound science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation.