United States Department of Interior
Fish and Wildlife Service
Washington, DC 20240
September 14, 2000
To: Regional Directors
From: Director /s/ Jamie Rappaport Clark
Subject: Service Guidance on the Siting, Construction, Operation and Decommissioning of Communications Towers
Construction of communications towers (including radio, television, cellular, and microwave) in the United States has been growing at an exponential rate, increasing at an estimated 6 percent to 8 percent annually. According to the Federal Communication Commissions 2000 Antenna Structure Registry, the number of lighted towers greater than 199 feet above ground level (AGL) currently number over 45,000 and the total number of towers over 74,000. Non-compliance with the registry program is estimated at 24 percent to 38 percent, bringing the total to 92,000 to 102,000. By 2003, all television stations must be digital, adding potentially 1,000 new towers exceeding 1,000 feet AGL.
The construction of new towers creates a potentially significant impact on migratory birds, especially some 350 species of night-migrating birds. Communications towers are estimated to kill 4-5 million birds per year, which violates the spirit and the intent of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Code of Federal Regulations at Part 50 designed to implement the MBTA. Some of the species affected are also protected under the Endangered Species Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Act.
Service personnel may become involved in the review of proposed tower sitings and/or in the evaluation of tower impacts on migratory birds through National Environmental Policy Act review; specifically, Sections 1501.6, opportunity to be a cooperating agency, and 1503.4, duty to comment on federally-licensed activities for agencies with jurisdiction by law, in this case the MBTA, or because of special expertise. Also, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act requires that any activity on Refuge lands be determined as compatible with the Refuge system mission and the Refuge purpose(s). In addition, the Service is required by the ESA to assist other Federal agencies in ensuring that any action they authorize, implement, or fund will not jeopardize the continued existence of any Federally endangered or threatened species.
A Communication Tower Working Group composed of government agencies, industry, academic researchers and NGOs has been formed to develop and implement a research protocol to determine the best ways to construct and operate towers to prevent bird strikes. Until the research study is completed, or until research efforts uncover significant new mitigation measures, all Service personnel involved in the review of proposed tower sitings and/or the evaluation of the impacts of towers on migratory birds should use the attached interim guidelines when making recommendations to all companies, license applicants, or licensees proposing new tower sitings. These guidelines were developed by Service personnel from research conducted in several eastern, midwestern, and southern states, and have been refined through Regional review. They are based on the best information available at this time, and are the most prudent and effective measures for avoiding bird strikes at towers. We believe that they will provide significant protection for migratory birds pending completion of the Working Groups recommendations. As new information becomes available, the guidelines will be updated accordingly.
Implementation of these guidelines by the communications industry is voluntary, and our recommendations must be balanced with Federal Aviation Administration requirements and local community concerns where necessary. Field offices have discretion in the use of these guidelines on a case by case basis, and may also have additional recommendations to add which are specific to their geographic area.
Also attached is a Tower Site Evaluation Form which may prove useful in evaluating proposed towers and in streamlining the evaluation process. Copies may be provided to consultants or tower companies who regularly submit requests for consultation, as well as to those who submit individual requests that do not contain sufficient information to allow adequate evaluation. This form is for discretionary use, and may be modified as necessary.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712) prohibits the taking, killing, possession, transportation, and importation of migratory birds, their eggs, parts, and nests, except when specifically authorized by the Department of the Interior. While the Act has no provision for allowing unauthorized take, it must be recognized that some birds may be killed at structures such as communications towers even if all reasonable measures to avoid it are implemented. The Services Division of Law Enforcement carries out its mission to protect migratory birds not only through investigations and enforcement, but also through fostering relationships with individuals and industries that proactively seek to eliminate their impacts on migratory birds. While it is not possible under the Act to absolve individuals or companies from liability if they follow these recommended guidelines, the Division of Law Enforcement and Department of Justice have used enforcement and prosecutorial discretion in the past regarding individuals or companies who have made good faith efforts to avoid the take of migratory birds.
Please ensure that all field personnel involved in review of FCC licensed communications tower proposals receive copies of this memorandum. Questions regarding this issue should be directed to Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Chief, Division of Habitat Conservation, at (703)358-2161, or Jon Andrew, Chief, Division of Migratory Bird Management, at (703)358-1714. These guidelines will be incorporated in a Directors Order and placed in the Fish and Wildlife Service Manual at a future date.
Service Interim Guidelines For Recommendations On
Communications Tower Siting, Construction, Operation, and Decommissioning
In order to obtain information on the extent to which these guidelines are being implemented, and to identify any recurring problems with their implementation which may necessitate modifications, letters provided in response to requests for evaluation of proposed towers should contain the following request:
In order to obtain information on the usefulness of these guidelines in preventing bird strikes, and to identify any recurring problems with their implementation which may necessitate modifications, please advise us of the final location and specifications of the proposed tower, and which of the measures recommended for the protection of migratory birds were implemented. If any of the recommended measures can not be implemented, please explain why they were not feasible.
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