Save the birds, but save the towers


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In November, the FCC released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that discusses the effects of communications towers on migratory birds. This is the latest action from the commission in a proceeding (WT Docket 03-187) that began in August 2003 when the commission released a notice of inquiry on the matter. The concern is that large numbers of migratory birds are killed every year because of collisions with communications towers.

The phenomenon has been the subject of many articles and studies for the past 50 years, although it has gained a newfound focus in recent years. Following its August 2003 notice of inquiry, the FCC commissioned its own study to investigate the matter.

In the meantime, several interest groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take action to protect the birds. It appears to me that the FCC is only taking this action to appease other branches of the government. It's easy for the FCC to enact a rule based on input from an inquiry. The FCC doesn't have to retrofit a tower or dismantle an unused structure. The FCC can create a rule that gets the agency off the hook so that it comes out looking like a team player.

What we have now is an NPRM that references several reports and statistics to show that there is a problem. Unfortunately for tower owners, those who want to protect the birds want a sweeping change to be created even though the so-called problem is not present at every tower. One of the sweeping changes is to require towers to use strobe lights instead of beacons because the birds are not attracted to the strobes like they are to the beacons.

My own informal poll shows that most tower sites do not experience the mass bird kills that some of the studies claim. Do you work at towers that are more than 200 feet tall? How many dead birds have you found at your tower sites? Even if you find several dead birds, do you know what killed them?

Some of the reports claim that thousands of birds have been found at tower sites because of a collision with the tower. The problem I have with the studies and reports that are referenced in the NPRM is that I have not seen any proof that the mass death is the direct result of all the birds colliding with the tower or the guy wires. They all make that assumption. Add to this that the FCC's own research states that additional research is required to determine the true severity of the issue.

So what can you do? Comments on the NPRM are due on or before Jan. 22, 2007, and reply comments are due on or before Feb. 20, 2007. While the NAB and other groups will file comments, you should file too. Many comments will come from well-intentioned individuals who want to protect the birds, but their comments will have little or no relevant information about the real cause or solution to the situation.

This issue is one that is heavily influenced by emotion. As I read through the nearly 500 comments already filed on this proceeding since 2003, there are plenty of comments that support the idea of requiring all towers to use strobes simply on the basis of protecting the birds. Few comments like this include any scientific information to support the change.

I like birds as much as anyone, and I agree that steps should be taken to protect them from man's environmental changes. But protecting the birds by requiring blanket changes where such changes are not warranted is ludicrous.

File your own comments. Include as much documented information as you can and do not simply file an emotional plea. We can protect the migratory birds, but it's important to prevent an unnecessary rulemaking from becoming a tremendous burden to all broadcasters.


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