Did BP Allow Thousands of Birds to Die?


What happens when you’re the backbone of a massive oil spill response, but you’re infinitely more concerned about protecting your corporate image than you are about protecting wildlife and the environment? Well, among other things, LOTS of birds die that didn’t have to die. And even more disturbing: thousands of birds may die and nobody will ever know.

The St. Petersburg Times is reporting that the BP spill may have killed thousands of birds without anyone knowing about it, because experienced experts were kept on the sidelines while federal and state employees were assigned to bird rescue – even though many had no experience. According to the Times article: “The experts were not allowed to go look for live oiled birds in the areas where they were most likely to be found.” One veteran rescuer, who has been saving birds from oil spills since 1971, says he was tasked with answering hotline calls instead of being used in the field.

If true, these allegations suggest either abject incompetence or heartless criminality. “I’m just at a loss for why this was allowed to happen,” says Lee Fox of Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota. “I thought these people were on the side of the wildlife.”

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official tells the Times that: “the agency must handle the bird rescue duties itself, with an assist from other federal and state officials, because of ‘our migratory bird responsibilities under the law.’ Federal law has given special protection to migratory birds since 1918.”

Well…maybe. But the Times also notes that BP: “… hired a 4-year-old Texas company called Wildlife Response Services to oversee the rescue and rehabilitation of birds, turtles and any other animals hurt by the spill. The owner, Rhonda Murgatroyd, just happened to be one of those locals to star in a television ad for BP, touting the oil company’s response to the spill.”

According to the Times: “As of Friday, the joint BP-Coast Guard task force reported they had collected 7,568 birds, 4,212 of them visibly oiled. More than 5,500 were dead. Not one was collected from offshore.” Not ONE collected from offshore? How can that possibly be?

One very troubling explanation is that you can’t get fined for an undocumented dead bird. I can’t help but wonder what other types of wildlife and ocean life BP may have treated this same way.

It would be a brilliant, cynical and totally believable strategy: Engage and lockup actual experts, because they’ll act on their own if you don’t, then get your PR gurus to cover your tracks. Great strategy…unless, of course, you actually possess a heart and give a damn about birds and the Gulf environment.

Read between the lines here: http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wildlife/bird-rescue-experts-kept-on-sideline-after-gulf-oil-spill/1119315

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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