Rules remain grounded: Flyway Council leaves migratory regulations unchanged

Posted: Friday, August 06, 2010

The Pacific Flyway Council on migratory birds opted not to take the Gulf Oil Spill into account during a decision making meeting late last month.

Eric Taylor, chief of Alaska's U.S. Fish and Wildlife waterfowl management branch, said that the Deepwater Horizon BP oil leak didn't factor into the sport hunting regulations because the current waterfowl in Alaska haven't migrated to the south yet.

"As far as waterfowl go, the oil spill was timed well," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Waterfowl Coordinator Dan Rosenberg.

Until the birds travel to warmer climates, Taylor said that his agency won't know the affects of the spill. Changing regulations any sooner would make it difficult to discern if the disaster caused negative affects on the bird populations.

"Changing will add another variable and make it tougher to discern an answer," he said.

Bob Trost, a Fish and Wildlife council representative from Oregon, said that the agency monitors survival rates and conducts mid-Winter surveys of flocks. The 11-state council came to its decision because few birds from the area winter in the Gulf of Mexico, straying into the Mississipi flyway.

However, Rosenberg said that a small percentage of waterfrowl migrate from Alaska to the region, including sandhill cranes, pin-tailed ducks, scaup and white fronted geese. The scientists claimed that the birds don't head to affected areas however; the birds usually go to the plains. The species have survived the droughts, and Taylor anticipates the spill won't have a significant impact on them.

Rosenberg pointed out that the government has plans to divert birds away from wetlands affected by the spills, if they do make the long haul to contaminated areas.

USDA Louisiana Natural Resources Conservation Service program manager Leslie Michael said that the eight states affected by the spill are working with locals to flood land to create artificial winter habitats for birds to rest and feed. Michaels said that the the habitats are supposed to divert birds from oil stricken wetlands.

Her office is helping to pay farmers for the construction of levies, engineering the flooding and clearing leftover harvests. Rice fields and crawfish farms are suited for the project because of pre-existing flood controls.

The projects create two- to three-inch pools for shorebirds to feed and nest, according to the manager, or deeper pools for diving birds.

Michael's counterpart in Georgia, Dennis Brooks, said that the agency pays for farms to spread small grain on the artificial habitats to feed the birds.

Currently the artificial habitats are set to stay in place for approximately three months.

The Louisiana branch of the program has received almost $15 million in funds, however, there is some question about their effectiveness. Other than simply being there, Michael wasn't sure how the make-shift habitats would entice birds.

"Birds are creatures of habit," she said. "Only when they get to destination and observe the damage do they relocate to a more suitable location."

Tony Cell can be reached at

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