Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Methane Flare/Raptor Conflict

Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon has been working on an issue concerning the deaths and injuries of birds of prey at landfills across the country. The following is informaton and a timeline concerning how I became involved in this issue:


Landfills consist of a treeless landscape which attracts rodents, a favorite food source of raptors. Methane is a by-product of the decomposition process in the landfill and operators are rquired by law to either burn it off or recycle the methane for energy.

According the Solid Waste Association of North America ("SWANA"), "Waste disposed in landfills generate landfill gas-roughly half of which is methane-through the process of waste decomposition. Methane is a green house gas, which according to the EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program ("LMOP") is 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. In order to prevent this gas from being released into the atmosphere it is becoming common to use landfill gas as a fuel source to generate green electricity. If a landfill does not produce enough landfill gas to make the capital investiment required for a green energy project feasible then another option is to burn off the landfill gas in a device known as a flare."

The height of the flares makes for a perfect perch for hunting raptors. Some methane flares have an ignitor which causes a sudden flame, while others have a continual invisible flame. Both types can kill anything perched on, or flying over, them. Because landfills are very low-traffic areas, a very small percentage of these birds are ever found and treated. Most succumb painfully to their injuries.

Birds have been found in numerous states, including New York. This is a nationwide problem and it is just finally coming to to the public eye.

Raptors are fully protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and as such, it is illegal to harm them. In fact, the fine for harming any bird, from the smallest songbird to the largest raptor, can run up to $15,000 per bird!

Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon became involved in this issue in November 2008. At that time, I heard about the issue that raptor rehabbers across the country were having and I felt compelled to help. I reached out to Rob Fergus of National Audubon who quickly posted the issue on his blog and we began to brainstorm on how we could help.

The following is a timeline of our action steps thus far:

December 2008: A landfill burned kestrel is brought in from the Port Washington Landfill to Sweetbriar Nature Center. Now that the issue has hit home, we decide it is time for stronger action. While Sweetbriar starts a paper petition to garner support, I quickly created an on-line petition, which now has almost 5, 000 signatures, and a Facebook cause called Save our Raptors (it has 900 members right now). The target of our cause? The USFWS (United States Fish and Wildlife Service). I called the FWS and asked for a meeting, which they quickly granted.

January 2009: meet with the FWS who pledge to help us on this issue. I created a PowerPoint presentation on the topic. Numerous conference calls followed, including calls to the EPA and Rick Harness, a raptor biologist who has been instrumental in the powerline/raptor conflict issue. Nick Papadopoulis of Burning Hawks Vineyards was a tremendous help in putting me in touch with the "people in charge" that I needed to speak to. The EPA claims they have no authority over these landfills but can be a resource with regards to LMOP.

By March I realized that it would perhaps be more productive to target the industry, creating awareness and education and discover that the SWANA is the largest professional organization in the industry. I sent letters and photos to the CEO, hoping to generate some response. In the meantime, an article that I wrote in our newsletter was seen by a board member of both the NYS Association for Solid Waste Management and the Federation of NYS Solid Waste Associations. As a result of this, in April 2009 the two associations joined forces with HOBAS, Audubon New York, Save our American Raptors, Oklahoma Raptors and Hoo's Woods to form the Save Our Raptors Campaign Coalition. A press release is sent out and as a result of that, the Associated Press ran an article which hit over 100 news outlets across the country!

The NYS solid wasted people presented this issue at their May meeting and there just happened to be a SWANA representative there. A SWANA rep quickly reached out to me and since June, the organization has been actively engaged in this issue. We have had several conference calls and they have engineers working on various bird deterrents.

Some of the methods have been talked about for years by rehabbers...anti perching devices and alternate perches. Some of the ideas are new and innovative. Easy solutions yes? Well, there ARE complications. Perching could possibly pierce the protective liners that are on the ground of landfills and anti perching devices must not only be heat resistant, they must be made to the specifications of the flare, so as not to void any warranties on the flare.

Swana sent out an email to over 1,300 members and as a result, we have already seen a trickle of responses. A landfill in North Carolina reached out to SWANA and I was contacted by someone from PA Wildlife who is now working with their local landfills. I was also contacted by someone in MA. SWANA has also formed a "Raptor Committee" and are committed to engaging on this issue.

Our hope is that even if landfill operators do not care about birds dying (and we have already heard from several that do), they will care about bad press and about possible prosecution. By creating public awareness and engaging industry leaders, perhaps the pressure will be greater for landfills to implement methods to prevent bird deaths.

Landfills vary in how they are set up and there is no cookie cutter remedy. There is no guarantee that this is going to be a miracle cure. There is no guarantee that landfills will take the steps needed to protect raptors. However, this is a fine first step.

Each time a bird dies at a landfill, the law is broken. Trying to enforce those laws by engaging various FWS branches has not been successful to date. To have SWANA on our side is vital. SWANA cannot enforce the law. Their job is to educate and to offer resources for landfill operators. They have the ability to be a powerful voice for raptors and this is what we have needed. For too now long raptor rehabbers have struggled to bring awareness of this issue outside their circles and now it finally is out there.

Latest Updates:

I have been invited to present a program on this topic at SWANA's national conference in Reno in April 2010. The fantastic news? SWANA themselves will be my co-presenters!

I have also been invited to present the program at the NYS solid waste conference in May 2010. Again, SWANA will co-present.

This is all great news and HOBAS is proud to be a part of this campaign along with our partners!!!!

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