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Earth Notes

Earth Notes: For Mining Claims, a Small Change Makes a Big Difference


Westerners used to use all kinds of markers to identify the locations of mining claims, such as wooden posts and large stone cairns. The modern way is easy: sink an un-capped PVC pipe into the ground. It’s easy and effective. But there’s a dark side to these innocuous plastic tubes.

Each year, legions of birds become trapped in the open pipes. The victims are typically cavity nesters such as mountain bluebirds. Woodpeckers, kestrels, and owls fall afoul too, as do bats, lizards and small mammals. Unable to escape, they die of dehydration or starvation.

Up to 30 tiny corpses have been reported in a single PVC marker, with at least one dead bird per pipe on average. And with over three million mining claims marked this way, nationwide these seemingly bland tubes take a huge toll.

The Bureau of Land Management recently moved to solve this out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem, issuing a new policy designed to eliminate open pipes on public lands. From now on, all such pipes on lands managed by the BLM must be capped, permanently screened – or removed altogether.

Mine-claim holders are being encouraged to voluntarily remove PVC pipes, replacing them with wildlife-safe markers of wood, metal, or stone.

A coalition of over a hundred wildlife groups led by the American Bird Conservancy is heralding the move, calling it “a small change that will make a big difference.” Advocates are encouraging the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take similar action soon.

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