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General News    H3'ed 6/9/10

Doomed Pelicans: British Petroleum Neglecting Booms in Pelican Rookery

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Ben and the writer looked at each other. "Did you hear that?"

"Did he really say this was a failure?"

We were treated to a lecture that this was "only a test" and that laws and procedures forbade "disturbing a rookery." The obvious question is that since the entire ecosystem has been destroyed, don't drastic times call for drastic measures? No one seemed to be thinking out of the box. BP was not maintaining the boom, oil was everywhere, the parent pelicans were in great danger, and this official was saying the nests must be undisturbed. It was obvious that the entire rookery was under siege.

A wildlife veterinarian told us it was her opinion that the chicks should be removed from the nests, hand fed, which is relatively easy to do, and transported far away from the oil for eventual release. To not intervene is folly and a death sentence. But rules are rules.

So, we contacted a very helpful wildlife official in Baton Rouge. Robert Love works for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and has been a biologist for nearly thirty years. Love is responsible for coastal marshes on six refuges, eight Wildlife Management Areas, and the management and supervision of fur, alligator, rare, threatened and endangered species, and reptile and amphibian resources within the state.

Love began our phone conversation sounding a bit resentful that writers would question policy, but then said that he realized "journalists have a job to do."

What about the non-intervention policy?

Love replied that his first responsibility was "to do no harm," but he realized that the lack of boom maintenance was making the situation worse. He has been inundated with advice from federal and state agencies and also must follow a chain of command and a set of rules that calls for minimal intervention. His responses were thoughtful, cautious, and respectful of wildlife--a biologist caught in a dicey situation.

Love said his department has a 70 percent capture rate (the average is 30 percent) and is "proud of his employees." Love was perplexed regarding our encounter with the "failed test" and could not offer a response.

Was there room to think outside the box?

Love offered a qualified "maybe," but said it was "difficult for us to obtain complete command" with the layer upon layer of agencies and lack of a unified command structure.

We asked who was in charge of boom maintenance.

Answer: "BP."

Was BP's lack of attention to boom maintenance a problem?

"Definitely."

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)
 

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