The Federal Communications Commission recently began the process of considering new rules to reduce the number of birds killed in collisions with communications towers. The best way to reduce collisions is to have fewer towers by collocating equipment on one structure. The FCC rulemaking furthers the national discussion of collocation, which can benefit more than birds.
This discussion took place briefly in Maine when lawmakers discussed legislation to provide tax breaks to small wind power projects. Sen. Ethan Strimling included language in the bill encouraging those seeking to build wind farms and cell phone towers to work together. Because of technical concerns, this was dropped from the bill, which became law this spring.
Sen. Strimling had the right idea but perhaps the wrong forum.
The FCC is taking action now after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked for stricter guidelines on tower location to protect migrating birds and conservation groups sued charging that the agency’s failure to require avoidance measures was unnecessarily killing birds.
Although the FCC focuses on lighting and tower height as the most likely ways to remedy the situation, it acknowledges that other solutions are possible. It should carefully examine the Fish and Wildlife Service’s collocation suggestion.
There are more than 85,000 towers providing coverage for cellular telephone, television and radio, paging, messaging, wireless data and other industries, according to the American Bird Conservancy. About 7,000 new towers are currently being built each year to meet demand for growth in cellular and television networks.
More than 60,000 of these towers are required by the FCC to be lit, either because they are over 199 ft. tall, are in the immediate vicinity of an airport, or are situated along major highway travel routes. The lights draw birds to the towers where they collide with the structure, one another or collapse from exhaustion after repeatedly circling, according to the conservancy.
Although on a much smaller scale, there are a growing number of wind turbines being installed as demand for alternative energy increases. Both types of towers are often opposed because of their visual impact and their potential to kill birds.
One way to combat both problems is to require consolidation of new communications equipment on one tower. This could include public safety equipment, radio transmitters and cell phone antennas. Efforts should also be made to encourage the coupling of communications equipment and wind power projects, especially given the new emphasis on smaller scale wind farms. This is already done in Europe.
Reducing the growth in the number of towers will benefit people and birds.
By Bangor Daily News Staff
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