FCC Continues to Drag Feet on Towers Deadly to Endangered Hawaiian Birds |
|Hawaaian Goose. Photo: USFWS
In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that a number of communications towers in Hawaii would likely cause harm to imperiled birds, the Newell's Shearwater, Hawaiian Goose, Band-rumped Storm-petrel, and Hawaiian Petrel and recommended formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for tower projects. However, four years later, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency in charge of licensing towers, has failed to initiate the process. Consultation allows wildlife experts to determine if a project will harm an endangered species, and to recommend changes to the project or ways to mitigate the harm that it would cause.
FWS reiterated their request to the FCC in a letter dated September 15, 2008 stating: “In accordance with section 7 if the ESA, we recommend the FCC work in good faith with the Service and the communications industry in Hawaii to develop a project description for a programmatic consultation for existing and future towers in Hawaii.”
In a related matter, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal of a case brought against the FCC for failing to protect two of these endangered bird species. The Conservation Council for Hawai'i, Forest Conservation Council, and American Bird Conservancy sued the FCC for failing to protect the endangered Hawaiian Petrel and threatened Newell’s Shearwater, from fatal collisions at seven large communication towers on Kauai and the Big Island.
Both bird species appear on the list of threatened and endangered species protected by the ESA. According to FWS, such communication towers disrupt nocturnal migration patterns of these species and cause birds to collide with the towers and the nearly invisible guy wires that support them. The ESA requires the FCC to consult with the FWS to develop modifications to lessen such impacts. The lawsuit was prompted by the FCC's failure to engage in such consultation. The groups were represented by Earthjustice, a non-profit legal organization.
|Hawaiian Petrel. Photo: USFWS
“While we are disappointed by the court’s ruling, we are outraged by the FCC’s failure to consult with the nation’s foremost wildlife experts to address the impacts of these towers to the endangered Hawaiian Petrel and threatened Newell’s Shearwater,” said Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President of Conservation Advocacy.
Fatal collisions between birds and communications towers are a nationwide problem, and according to experts, cause the deaths of up to fifty million birds every year, including birds at risk of extinction. The problem is escalating, with thousands of new towers being authorized by the FCC and constructed each year. Many of these mortalities are avoidable by modifying tower design features such as lighting, eliminating guy wires, or reducing tower height.
The seven Hawaii towers at issue in the lawsuit are located near known populations of the imperiled birds, and all carry design features known to increase the likelihood of collisions. None of the tower companies or the FCC has complied with the procedure mandated by the ESA to consult with the FWS to ensure that the towers are not helping drive the listed bird species to extinction.
American Bird Conservancy will continue to pursue administrative remedies with the FCC for the problem of bird collisions with towers. In 2006, the FCC announced a proposed rulemaking to address the issue, but currently there is no indication about when a draft rule will be issued for public comment.
Hawaii Hastens Conversion to Digital TV to Help Hawaiian Petrel
Following the recommendation of federal wildlife officials, Hawaii will be switching to digital TV a month before the federal deadline. Plans to demolish the old analog broadcast towers could have disrupted nesting for the Hawaiian Petrel on the nearby slopes of Maui’s Haleakala Volcano. About 1,000 of the endangered birds nest there, beginning each February. The old towers will now be demolished in January; their removal may also help reduce mortality of the birds, which can collide with the tower’s nearly invisible support wires.