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What’s Involved in Getting Involved: Part I (to be continued)

In 1988 and 1989, I fought against construction of what was to be a 300-foot, guyed, lighted cell-phone tower in view of and directly along the path of Duluth’s hawk and songbird migration flyway. This was six years before the American Bird Conservancy started, when cell phone technology was new, and when the issue of avian collisions with communications towers was well under the radar of Audubon, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and virtually all birders.

I won that battle: the company erected a 100-foot unlighted pole to support its antenna, the pole cemented in the ground without guy wires. I believe I am the first person ever to successfully stop construction of any communications tower entirely because of its potential effect on migratory birds. My much less extensive input in two other tower issues in the 1990s was also helpful in the ultimate decisions to lower the height of those structures, but other people led those battles.

In 2011, I helped fight a 450-foot tower that would be constructed right at the edge of the dark sky Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area in northern Minnesota. This time we had a prestigious Twin Cities legal firm representing a powerful organization (the Friends of the Boundary  Waters), and we were armed with all the information that had been amassed by the American Bird Conservancy, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bill Evans and his wonderful towerkill.com website.

Despite ATT’s legal team and their hiring Paul Kerlinger to testify that the tower would kill at most just “a few dozen, up to four dozen” birds per year, again we won the battle: the District Court judge ruled in our favor. But in this case, we lost the war: the Minnesota appeals court overruled the verdict and the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

In the coming weeks I’ll be putting together two lengthy blog posts about these cases. Both stories are instructive in the amount and kind of work necessary to fight a single local environmental battle; how birders with different time constraints and areas of expertise, along with organizations and governmental units, contributed to the outcomes; and the powerful forces opposing conservation at every level.

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