The Ethics of Birding

 

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Cattle Egrets foraging in Belize, November 2015, photo by Heather Kostick

What an important topic for the millions of humans that like to bird watch. I have been birding probably most of my life without realizing it as my mom has always been a “backyard birder”. My mom has this elaborate bird feeder with six compartments that you could fill with multiple kinds of seeds, and it slides up and down on a metal pole that makes it incredibly difficult for squirrels to climb. I started to take birding more seriously when I took an ornithology course at my alma mater Juniata College in 2010. The course took place over the summer at the Raystown Field Station which serves as an excellent place to get some field experience. One of the first things my professor, Dr. Chuck Yohn, talked about was the ethics of birding. There’s a laundry list of things you shouldn’t do while birding, but people do them anyway. I strive to not demonstrate bad birding behavior as an example to others and to leave as little impact on the birds and ecosystem as possible. Here’s a short list of things to avoid and some articles at the bottom for best practices.

  • The welfare of the bird is the biggest priority. Do not endanger the bird by getting too close, taking pictures of nestlings (you’re leaving a trail and a clue to predators), or staying too long. Birds think that you are a predator and will expend energy avoiding you. Remember, this is a hobby for you and survival for them. Some birds are simply too exhausted to move (see Snowy Owls) and may seem calm but in reality just don’t have the energy to avoid you. Be respectful and remember that birds need space.
  • Keep yourself safe. Take your time. It’s generally not worth breaking a limb trying to get that bird or perfect photo.
  • Respect the land. Make sure you are allowed to be where you are. Are you birding on private or public land? (Better find out.) Private landowners are not always so keen on birders appearing no matter how rare the sighting is (See this article – there is no definitive proof who shot the bird).

Birding Ethics as Outlined by Other Resources

Find your local birding club for more resources and to learn more about birding.

 

 

 

 

 

Offshore Drilling: A Conundrum

 

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Offshore Oil Rig, Source: offshore-job.net

It is hard to say whether or not we should continue to allow and promote offshore drilling, because it’s a complicated issue. On one hand, our renewable energy technology isn’t where we need it to be for that source of energy to be our primary source; and updates to the power grid would have to happen in order to deal with renewable energy. On the other hand, these offshore oil rigs can have a negative impact on the environment and wildlife, and extracting oil promotes the use of a source of fuel that will eventually run out. I think it would be wise to not allow any more offshore rigs to be built, divest in oil, and start to reinvest money that would have been used for oil into renewable energy.

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Examples of Offshore Oil Rigs, Source: UAF

Offshore oil rigs come in a variety of structures, but the riskier ones are the floating production system. They are dangerous not only because of the potential for oil leaks during transportation, but also because of hurricanes. From about August through November, hurricanes go through the Gulf of Mexico. While oil rig companies make preparations for hurricanes, they cannot necessarily hurricane-proof offshore rigs; rigs can be damaged and leak oil as a result of hurricanes. The wildlife and environment are used to natural slow leaks of oil from the Earth’s crust, but are unable to handle a large amount in one time event. The BP oil spill in 2010, not caused by a hurricane, is an example of how wildlife and the environment are affected by a massive oil spill. This 2010 oil spill produced wildlife casualties, but luckily when a spill occurs, there are crews ready to deal with the clean up of both wildlife and the environment. Tri-State Bird Rescue was the lead responder on the BP 2010 oil spill, and while data is not yet available due to legal issues, it’s safe to say that without these oil spill responders, the devastation on wildlife could have been greater.

If we divest in oil and reinvest money into renewable energy, part of that investment could be made into the power grid. The power grid needs updating if we are to start relying more heavily on renewable energy. Along with not building anymore offshore oil rigs, there is the issue of abandoned oil rigs and not knowing exactly what sort of impact they will have on the environment. There are already 27,000 abandoned oil rigs and wells in the Gulf of Mexico, with some dating back to the 1940s, that need to be dealt with. These rigs were built with materials that may not be suitable to withstand a long-term marine environment, and they can (and do according to this news article) leak. That’s more oil and materials going into the ocean that is already taking a huge hit from anthropogenic pollution. As a species, we need to take responsibility for the impact we have on the environment and lessen it whenever possible.

Sources:

http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/212_spring2011.web.dir/kristine_odom/temp/10956/ftddrops/Upstream.html

https://tristatebird.org/effects-on-wildlife/

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/gulf-oil-spill-whos-to-blame-bp-halliburton-and-the-feds-are-all-implicated/

http://www.epa.gov/osweroe1/docs/oil/edu/oilspill_book/chap7.pdf

http://www.pserc.wisc.edu/research/project_summaries/S-52.aspx

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2015/03/adding-renewable-energy-power-grid-requires-flexibility

http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/07/27000_abandoned_oil_and_gas_we.html

Musings About the Clean Power Plan

I have hope that the federal government actually cares about its people, or at least the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cares. The Clean Power Plan put forth by the EPA aims to cut our emissions by 30% by 2030 by providing guidelines for states (Environmental Protection Agency, et al., 2014b). The plan basically gives four options on how to achieve this: 1. reduce emissions of coal generating facilities 2. switch from coal (which produces carbon dixoide as a byproduct) to natural gas production (which produces methane as a byproduct) 3. increasing generation from renewable sources and using nuclear power 4. growth in end-use energy efficiency to displace emitting generation (Environmental Protection Agency, et al., 2014b).

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Wind Turbines Outside of Atlantic City, NJ. Photo Credit: Heather Kostick.

The third and fourth options appeal to me the most, because option 1 should already be happening. Option 2 is a stickier situation:  there is a valid point to move to a cleaner burning source, but methane contributes more heat to the atmosphere at a higher rate than does carbon dioxide (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014a). Options 3 and 4 are appealing, but still have their cons. Nuclear power is very efficient, but the major issues are where to build new plants; where to store the nuclear waste; and how to handle natural disasters which could damage or destroy nuclear power plants, which would leak harmful materials into the environment. Putting more resources into investing in renewables is one of the best ways to go in terms of avoiding nuclear disasters. We will run out of fossil fuel eventually (Nelder, 2009), but we won’t run out of the sun or the wind any time soon (barring any catastrophic events). Humans have already begun to invest in renewables, and technologies that use renewables have definitely improved than when they were first introduced (Nelder, 2009).  However, imagine if we also divest in coal, natural gas, and oil production. A heavy investment in renewables will lead to a quicker advancement of new or existing renewable-related technology. As a nation, we should be investing more into viable long-term options, such as renewable resources; and require all new construction and development to be more energy efficient and less wasteful. I have seen wind turbines out in Central Pennsylvania – it is possible for a primarily coal-producing state to generate renewable energy. The wind turbines themselves provide jobs – all of the people that are involved in the site selection, construction, and set up of wind turbines, PLUS post-production ongoing monitoring of wind turbine kill rates of bats and birds. There are many issues to consider when dealing with energy and cleaner power plans including social justice, how much control the federal government has over states, job security, environmental health, and more (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014c). Whichever plan has a combination of options and factors that maximize energy efficiency, positive environmental health impacts, and provides the most security for livelihood will be best for not only our planet, but for humans as a species (Defries, et al., 2005). We humans need to recognize the vital services Earth provides, and treat our planet with more respect.

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Cedar Waxwing siblings captured and banded in Willistown, PA. Photo Credit: Heather Kostick. Many species of birds, including Cedar Waxwings, are affected by wind turbines but that doesn’t mean we should totally stop using the technology

 

References

DeFries, R. e. a. (2005). Millennium ecosystem assessment. (Assessment) United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/index.html

Environmental Protection Agency. (2014a). Overview of Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved from http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html

Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. Health & Environmental Impacts Division. Air Economics Group. (2014b). Regulatory impact analysis for the proposed carbon pollution guidelines for existing power plants and emission standards for modified and reconstructed power plants (plan No. EPA-452/R-14-002). North Carolina, USA: EPA. (Clean Power Plan) Retrieved from http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-06/documents/20140602ria-clean-power-plan.pdf

Environmental Protection Agency. (2014c). Renewable energy. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/statelocalclimate/state/topics/renewable.html

Nelder, C. (2009). The end of fossil fuel. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/2009/07/24/peak-oil-production-business-energy-nelder.html