Remarks for USFWS Director Jamie Rappaport Clark before Edison Electric Institute Natural Resources Workshop


[NOTE: delivered on April 26, 1999 in Williamsburg, VA]

INTRODUCTION It is a special honor to be here today before this audience. Everyone in this room should be proud of the fact that your industry is doing great things when it comes to wildlife stewardship. You made it happen, through your hard work and dedication. And for that, the Fish and Wildlife Service thanks you.

I am aware that, with de-regulation, your industry is undergoing a great deal of change. The way you do business is being transformed. I hope that as this transformation evolves, our partnership will emerge as strong as ever. Certainly, we will be reaching out to you, to continue to build on our past collaboration.

THE BIG PICTURE

Today, I want to talk about migratory birds. This is a subject dear to my heart and to the many Americans who share a passion for birds. It might surprise some of you to learn that bird watching is currently one of the fastest growing hobbies in this country. Each year in the United States, nearly 70 million Americans spend more than 21 billion dollars on bird-related activities.

And right now, our birds need all the attention they can get. Of the 840 different species of birds in the United States:

  • One third of these species are experiencing population declines.
  • 124 are species of management concern
  • and 90 are on the endangered species list.

There are many reasons why our birds are in trouble. Habitat loss is a major cause of the population declines we are seeing. But more and more, we are seeing birds coming into trouble with some modern-day threats, including collisions with:

  • skyscrapers and other buildings;
  • communication towers; and
  • wind power generators as well as electric power lines and poles.
  • A boom in the domestic cat population is another problem for our birds.
To give you a sense of the magnitude of the problem: these modern threats, taken together, may be causing the deaths of more than a billion birds a year, and that is a conservative estimate. The sad part is that many of these bird mortalities are preventable. And we should do whatever it takes to mitigate them. We must take responsibility for ensuring their survival.

Despite the challenges, there is some good news. Our national symbol, the bald eagle, has been rescued from the brink of extinction. We've changed its endangered listing to threatened. Soon, we propose to de-list it entirely.

All of you who have worked on the bird electrocution issue should take some pride in that. Every bald eagle you saved counts, and got us a bit closer to recovering this magnificent raptor. Overall, the electric power industry has been a leader in addressing problem poles and lines. I encourage you to step it up. Your research, and your solutions, can be a great help to other industries. Share it with them, and keep doing more. But also remain vigilant, otherwise we risk losing all our gains and finding ourselves back at square one.

THE PRACTICAL POINT OF VIEW

L Every company represented in this room has some practical reasons for addressing bird electrocutions and collisions. First, bird electrocutions do at times lead to costly and unnecessary power outages. Power outages are unpopular with customers, but they can be especially so if the public discovers that the power loss is caused by birds dying on the wires. Remember the public's love affair with birds. Recurring bird deaths from power lines can give your company a public relations headache.

IT'S THE LAW Making power lines bird-safe is not only the right thing to do, it is also the law. As I am sure many of you know, electric power companies are liable under the Endangered Species Act for the taking of federally listed threatened and endangered species. Non-listed species of birds are protected under four international treaties and several federal statutes including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Further, all 50 states have bird-protection laws on the books.

Though these laws give the Fish and Wildlife Service the authority to prosecute industry members for bird deaths resulting from power line electrocutions and collisions, our goal truly is voluntary compliance on the part of the industry a goal I know you share with us. I understand, though, that investor-owned utilities feel that they are carrying the load on this issue for the entire industry. I want to assure you that the Fish and Wildlife Service understands that the entire utility industry shares in the responsibility to make their power lines and structures safe for birds. We will work with any and all types of utilities to make this happen.

THE ELECTRIC POWER INDUSTRY

That said, it is imperative that we get the entire utility industry to the table and that we all do our part. I want to let you know that the Fish and Wildlife Service appreciates what you have done so far.

I applaud the industry for having taken steps over the last three decades to make their wires and structures bird-friendly. I particularly commend the Edison Electric Institute especially its Avian Power Line Interaction Committee for tackling problem areas to save bird lives by encouraging voluntary compliance. The pro-active approach taken by the Committee is far better than being re-active, waiting for the discovery of bird carcasses under poles to spur legal action after the fact.

We need to continue to be pro-active. Many birds are still dying needlessly as a result of power lines. Our numbers suggest that bird mortalities today are almost as high as they were in the 1970s. Although the data are incomplete, we do know that in recent years, the carcasses of 1,500 electrocuted birds have been found in the Rocky Mountain region alone. Among the victims: golden eagles, hawks, owls, and bald eagles. Keep in mind that, since most bird electrocution deaths go unreported or even un-noticed, what we witness is only the tip of the iceberg. The same can be said about bird deaths due to collisions with power lines, which are much harder to assess since birds tend to die farther from the scene of the accident and with little indication of what caused their deaths.

The true magnitude of the problem is hinted at by reported incidents: 70 bird of prey mortalities in a 2-year period in an area of about 2,000 acres; four sandhill cranes found dead in a single spot under power lines one March day in 1995. The reports go on and on.

MY PERSONAL PRIORITY

As Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, I have made it one of my personal priorities to do more to further migratory bird conservation. Migratory birds are excellent indicators of the overall health of an ecosystem. When bird species are declining, everyone should be concerned. To raise migratory bird conservation to the next level, we are reaching out to all groups that can help us reduce the unnecessary causes of bird mortalities.

LET US KEEP IT UP

I am encouraged by the strong partnership we enjoy with the electric power industry, and I see that it holds potential for even greater collaboration. Let us keep it up. Here are five ideas for stepping up our actions.

First, I plan to highlight the need for the Fish and Wildlife Service to be pro-active and work with you on bird electrocutions and strikes. We have done well working together in the west, and I would like to see us repeat that success across the nation.

Second, I am interested in working with utilities to address problem power lines on our national wildlife refuges. Refuges protect our country's most important wildlife habitat and should therefore be a top priority. In Colorado, we have already made refuges bird-friendly. We began with Rocky Mountain Arsenal, where 43 bird mortalities were documented, mostly bald eagles, golden eagles, and owls. To resolve the problem, 320 poles were retro-fitted to be bird-friendly. I'd like to replicate that effort nationwide. We are exploring opportunities through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to get the industry involved in addressing this problem on refuges. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions on this idea.

Third, I would like to see the industry and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation collaborate on an outreach education campaign to your customers. Let's make people aware of this problem, let them know how you are being pro-active about it, and see if we can't engage them somehow.

Fourth, let's work closer together to expand training and education programs for our employees. I'm pleased with the joint government and industry Electric System Short Course, which is offered at our National Conservation Training Center. And I am thrilled that our law enforcement folks are being invited to address power-linemen-in-training at the Mesa Hotline School in Grand Junction, Colorado. I am also pleased to learn of next month's APLIC workshop on collisions and electrocutions in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Let's both look for more ways to educate our employees about the issue, and engage them in helping us devise and implement solutions.

Fifth, I am directing the Fish and Wildlife Service to work closely in the role of consultant with the manufacturers of devices to address the power line problems. Our biologists and field staff understand bird behavior, and they can help manufacturers design effective anti- perch triangles, anti-nesting devices, bird guards, wire and tower markers, and other products to make utility poles and wires bird-safe.

These ideas do not constitute an exhaustive list by any means. Together as partners, the sky is the limit for us. I urge all of you in this room to explore other opportunities. And we shouldn't limit ourselves to just this issue. Instead, let us build on our successful history as partners by working more closely together on other issues. I understand the industry has concerns with regards to emergency access to power lines. We are open to discussing this issue with you, and to exploring ways we can address your concerns while remaining loyal to the spirit of the bird protection statutes we are responsible for overseeing.

CONCLUSION

By working together, we can all be winners. For the industry, bird-safe power lines mean fewer preventable and costly outages, as well as a bird-friendly public image. For the Service, it means we've addressed a threat to wildlife. For the public, it means they can rest assured that they and their children will still be able to enjoy the majesty and grace of these birds. And for the birds . . . a place to rest. We can make it happen by tapping into the power of human collaboration.

Thank you.