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Mining claim markers kill thousands of Nevada birds


From the unintended consequences department comes a sad tale of dying birds in Nevada mining country. Across the Silver State, hundreds of thousands of plastic pipes used to mark mining claims kill untold thousands of birds, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Birds fly into the pipes looking for a place to nest and, unable to climb out on the smooth surface or spread their wings in the tight space, they slowly die of starvation. The cavity-nesting ash-throated flycatcher has been hit particularly hard, as well as Nevada's state bird, the mountain bluebird. The PVC tombs have also swallowed starlings, woodpeckers, kestrels, Western screech owls and lizards.

"Basically they're black holes for birds, literally and figuratively," John Hiatt, conservation chairman for the Red Rock Audubon Society, told the Review-Journal. "Once they're inside, it's a one-way trip."

The Nevada Department of Wildlife has pulled out at least 10,000 illegal posts and counted about 3,000 dead birds so far. One state biologist pulled 32 dead birds from a single marker, according to the article.

The uncapped plastic pipe markers were outlawed in Nevada in 1993, but hundreds of thousands remain in the landscape. In 2009, the state Legislature passed another law backed by the Audubon Society and the Nevada Mining Association giving claim holders two years to remove the outdated markers. November 1st marked the two-year deadline and now anyone can legally pull them out and set them on the ground in the same location.

Hiatt and other Audubon volunteers celebrated the day by pulling out pipes near the town of Pahrump. The Bureau of Land Management is helping, too, by sending crews out into southern Nevada to remove the deadly markers. BLM policy forbids using capless pipes to mark mining claims but states have their own rules. Arizona allows the practice.

It's a sad story for sure, but it's important to keep the problem in perspective. Consider these numbers: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated in 2002 that between 97 and 976 million birds are killed each year by flying into windows. Hundreds of millions of birds are killed by cats annually and some 440,000 are whacked by windmills.

So much unintended, feathery carnage highlights the need to prevent more hazards, and yanking or capping the countless plastic pipes across Nevada is one easy way to save some birds. As the Red Rock Audubon Society invites its volunteers: "Pull, baby, pull."

Nathan Rice is editorial fellow at High Country News.

Photo courtesy Flickr user מחסה בטוח , Least of These