We were honored that Sen. Amy Klobuchar contacted us earlier in the week and asked WRC to host a panel discussion regarding potential impacts of the Gulf oil spill on Minnesota’s migratory bird population.
Yesterday at WRC, Sen. Klobuchar met with a group of wildlife officials including me and John Christian, Assistant Regional Director for Migratory Birds, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Region 3; Carrol Henderson, Director, Non-Game Wildlife Program, Minnesota DNR; Ryan Heiniger, Director of Conservation Programs in MN and IA, Ducks Unlimited; Dr. Julia Ponder, Executive Director, The Raptor Center; and Mark Martell, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Minnesota.
The meeting was well-covered by the media. Sen. Klobuchar made it very clear that the fate of these migratory birds is one of her highest priorities and she stressed that officials needed to create a plan to respond if necessary. Of course at WRC we are very concerned about the conditions in the Gulf. We currently have admitted more than 2,000 waterfowl, shorebirds and songbird species that will migrate to or through the Gulf this fall.
We’re grateful Sen. Klobuchar is focusing on the upcoming migrations amidst all the other issues surrounding the spill.
It’s my hope that we act on this opportunity to channel public outrage about the spill into a long-range commitment to wildlife and wildlife habitats here in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.
The media glare will soon fade and eventually the spill damages will be repaired. But we can’t let that diminish our ongoing focus of healthy habitats here and in the Gulf Region. Even before this spill, there was a dead zone the size of New Jersey in the Gulf where the Mississippi flows into it. The recent StarTribune series on the health of Minnesota lakes should be a wake-up call to conditions in our own backyard.
As Jay Holcombe, executive Director of the International Bird Rescue and Research Center, which is working with Tri-State to clean oiled birds, says, “A pelican is a pelican whether is it tangled in fishing tackle or oiled.” As we know only too well, a Trumpeter Swan with lead poisoning is still an injured bird. A loon too ill to migrate and trapped in the ice on Lake Bemidji is as threatened as the loons in the Gulf.
Yes we worry, as we should, by what happens when “our” loons and other birds return to the Gulf. But we should be equally worried about what happens when they RETURN HERE. We shouldn’t wait for the next disaster but do all we can to protect our birds and their habitats now and in the future.