Endangered birds interfere with highway project

07:23 PM PDT on Thursday, August 5, 2004


KINGSTON, Wash. A small seabird stands in the way of one of the state's largest and most urgent highway repair jobs.

The threatened marbled murrelet lives in the waters surrounding the crumbling Hood Canal bridge and now Washington state is going to great lengths to keep these birds and the bridge project from crossing paths.

"We're essentially... I shouldn't say we're chasing birds, we're moving them from the areas as gently as we can," said Tom Hamer, biologist, Hamer Environmental.

The state hired Hamer and his team to spot and chase off marbled murrelets that get too close to the Hood Canal bridge during the loud and dangerous underwater pile driving process.

"Whether it's impacts to internal organs from the percussion going on underwater to impacts to the hearing of the bird," he continued.

They call it hazing and keeping the murrelet away won't be easy, because the fishing is good.

It's a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money, but you're also talking about the Endangered Species Act and that's the one thing that could put a project, even this big, right on ice.

State engineers say the old and decrepit Hood Canal floating bridge may not survive any more delays.

Engineers say if they have to pay to keep the murrelet away, so be it.

"It can cause problems but we go to great lengths to protect threatened or endangered species," said Ray Arnold, Washington Transportation Dept.

So while the murrelet patiently seeks out and swallows its diet of dancing fish, Hamer and crew will patiently keep their eyes peeled for the birds and chase off those that get too close.

The bird wranglers' task will only become more difficult in the weeks ahead.

The weather and seas will get rougher and more of the hungry murrelets are expected to arrive as they make their migration south from Canada.



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