U.S. senators, DU staff member rally for protection of migratory birds in wake of oil spill

As waterfowl migrations approach, millions of ducks, geese and other migratory birds will be headed toward the Gulf Coast. In some years, as many as 13 million ducks and 1.5 million geese have wintered in the Gulf Coast region. In recent weeks, Ducks Unlimited has been working to increase awareness of the risks these birds may face in the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill.

One such effort took place on June 25, when Ryan Heiniger, DU's director of conservation programs for Minnesota and Iowa, was invited by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN) to participate in a meeting to discuss the repercussions of the Gulf Coast oil spill on North America's migratory birds.

Also serving on the panel was John Christian, assistant regional director for migratory birds at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with several experts from Minnesota wildlife and conservation agencies and organizations. Panelists had the opportunity to share their perspective on the immediate and potential impacts of the oil spill, particularly with regard to species that spend part of their life cycle in Minnesota. Panelists also exchanged ideas regarding what measures must be taken over the coming months to restore habitat in the Gulf Coast region.

"DU appreciates Sen. Klobuchar's efforts to bring additional visibility to the impacts of the spill on migratory birds, especially waterfowl," Heiniger said. "We are also pleased she recognizes the proud traditions of waterfowling and the importance of accelerating both short- and long-term Gulf Coast marsh restoration plans."

Sen. Klobuchar told Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Dennis Anderson that she felt too little attention is going toward migratory birds amidst the oil spill. "What I've taken from discussions I've had recently in Washington is that there has not been enough focus on the potential effects of the oil spill on migratory birds," Klobuchar said. "The focus so far has been on fishing in the Gulf and the economics of the way of life along the Gulf."

The meeting was a prelude to a letter that Sen. Klobuchar, along with Sens. Kent Conrad (ND), George Voinovich (OH), Blanche Lincoln (AR), James Inhofe (OK), Ben Nelson (NE), Russell Feingold (WI) and Tim Johnson (SD), sent to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. The letter urged the administration to ensure all agencies and organizations involved with the Gulf Coast oil spill cleanup are working to protect America's migratory bird habitat.

After highlighting the substantial impact that waterfowl hunting, birding and related activities have on the nation's economy, the senators encouraged the administration to make sure that both government and nonprofit resources are coordinated and to establish a definitive plan to assess the Gulf Coast cleanup that is necessary for the protection of the nation's migratory birds.

The letter from the senators stated, "As we've seen, oil-covered habitats pose a serious threat to the birds that are already in the Gulf. With millions of additional birds headed to the area soon, the problem will become more acute and our wildlife - and hunting and birding communities - could face severe harm if we do not treat this issue with a great sense of urgency."