Mining-claim markers threaten birds
Why metal and PVC tubes commonly used to mark mining claims in Nevada and other western states present a clear hazard to millions of birds.
Published: April 20, 2012
A little-known threat to wildlife — uncapped metal or PVC pipes used to mark mining claims — may have killed millions of birds on public lands in 11 western states.
IRRESISTIBLE: Pipes mark mining claims in the Eldorado Mountains, north of Searchlight, Nevada.
Photo by Christy Klinger/Nevada Department of Wildlife
Small birds see the open pipes as hollows suitable for nesting and become trapped inside. The tubes are too narrow for the birds to extend their wings to fly, and the walls are too smooth to let birds climb out. Death from dehydration or starvation follows.
Examination of hundreds of markers in Nevada, the state with the most mining claims, revealed an average of more than one dead bird per pipe, as well as dead reptiles and small mammals. One marker contained more than 30 dead birds. In excess of 3.4 million federal mining claims have been made in the West, and at least four stakes — and sometimes as many as 30 — are used to mark each claim.
Nevada’s Department of Wildlife has recovered 43 species of birds from the markers so far. Most were cavity-nesters. Ash-throated Flycatcher and Mountain Bluebird were the most frequent victims, but woodpeckers, sparrows, shrikes, kestrels, and owls were also commonly trapped.
A 1993 Nevada law aimed at preventing wildlife deaths prohibits the marking of mining claims with new, uncapped, or uncrimped pipes, but about half of the protective caps installed on markers since then have become displaced, thereby re-establishing the hazard. 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 and continue to kill birds.
It is now permissible to pull up uncapped marker stakes in Nevada and leave them on the ground, and American Bird Conservancy biologists encourage you to do this. What’s required, however, is a more permanent, federal solution that makes all mine claimants responsible for their own stakes. In a letter to the heads of the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, ABC requested that action be taken immediately to eliminate the threat.
American Bird Conservancy is a 501(c)(3), not-for profit
organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their
habitats throughout the Americas. You can read more about Red Knots and
horseshoe crabs at abcbirds.org.