Virginia Offers New Plan To Protect Migratory Birds After Federal Rollback
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Bird lovers are celebrating a big win in Virginia. The governor there has stepped in to defend migratory birds that no longer have federal protection. A colony of 25,000 seabirds was under threat after the state's Department of Transportation paved over parts of their nesting home on an island. Sandy Hausman from member station WVTF explains.
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SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: Each spring, flocks of gulls, terns and other seabirds nest on Virginia's South Island, located next to a busy highway-and-tunnel complex that connects cities along the coast. The state plans to expand the roadway and add new tunnels. So last fall, after the birds headed south, crews paved six acres for use as a staging area. The news alarmed Jim Fraser, a professor of wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech.
JIM FRASER: Our seabirds have been declining for 25 years, 60% since 1993.
HAUSMAN: That's because people keep developing islands where these birds like to nest - far from predators, but close to their food, fish. Fraser and other bird lovers called a political insider, William Leighty, former chief of staff for two governors, who was happy to help organize the opposition.
WILLIAM LEIGHTY: I am quite an avid birder, and I served nine years on the American Bird Conservancy national board.
HAUSMAN: Letters and emails poured in, and crowds showed up at public meetings to demand protection for the birds. That used to come from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a law the Trump administration says it won't enforce. Professor Fraser called on the state to build the birds their own island. And late last week, Governor Ralph Northam stepped in, designating a five-acre site near South Island for gulls, terns and skimmers. Now, says Fraser, some home improvements are needed to get rid of rodents that eat eggs and to eliminate perches for predators.
FRASER: Right now, there's trees and other things that would discourage seabirds, and I guess they're going to take the trees down. The other issue that has to be dealt with is the place is crawling with rats.
HAUSMAN: Fraser hopes the birds will be attracted to the new habitat by decoys and recorded birdcalls when they start returning to the area next month.
For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman.
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