ELKO — Wildlife officials and conservationists in Nevada say they’re making progress knocking down the white plastic pipes that miners have used to stake their claims, as such markers can become death traps for hundreds of thousands of small birds that get stuck inside.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimates there are more than 3.4 million of the white polyvinyl chloride pipes sticking out of the ground across the West — more than 1 million in Nevada alone in a 2011 survey.
The American Bird Conservancy, Nevada Department of Wildlife, BLM and several mining companies have been tracking and removing the pipes, which have been required since 2009 to be replaced by solid posts under state law in Nevada, the biggest producer of gold in the nation and sixth-largest in the world.
Darin Schroeder of the American Bird Conservancy estimates the PVC markers cause the death of more than a million birds a year nationally. He said small cavity-nesting birds mistake the openings for an ideal home but once inside are doomed by the smooth sides of the pipe with a narrow diameter that keeps them from climbing or flying out.
Nevada Wildlife Department biologists Pete Bradley and Christy Klinger have been at the forefront of organizing post removals since researchers started documenting the deaths in the 1980s.
Klinger said the most recent post-pulling campaign in south-central Nevada in December knocked down about 23,000 pipes and recorded about 9,500 dead birds.
The most common victims include mountain bluebirds, western meadowlarks, cactus wrens and some small western screech owls.
Klinger said more and more people are getting the word about the danger of the markers.
“The bottom line — anyone who sees them, knock them down,” she said.