August 4, 2014

The NFL and its bird-killing stadiums

Glass wall at planned Minnesota Vikings stadium will be deadly for birds, and the problem could be avoided.

Things have been going pretty well lately for the National Football League.

Revenues this past year were around $10 billion. Arguably, football is the most watched and followed sport in this country.

But developments surrounding the planning of a new football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings offer a glimpse of an emerging unseemly indifference by the team’s owners and the NFL to wildlife impacts that is disturbing to millions of people who care about the nonhuman species that share our planet.

Plans for the proposed new stadium call for a massive wall of glass that experts say will assuredly kill thousands of birds over the life of the facility.

Bird and wildlife advocates have raised this concern with stadium developers and with city planners. Reasonable solutions were offered from conservationists early in the process.

The response from the team and the NFL has been as frigid as the Minnesota winters: The glass will go in exactly as planned. And this is in spite of a new resolution from the Minneapolis City Council calling for bird-saving preventative measures.

The stadium, which is expected to open in two years, will cost nearly $1 billion to build. The bird-friendly changes requested — installing “fritted” glass with ceramic dots that birds see and generally avoid — would cost about $1.1 million.

For an outlay of one-tenth of one percent of the cost of the stadium, this problem goes away. This is pocket change to the NFL and team owners.

For some reason, team owners and the NFL feel empowered to ignore what in all likelihood will be daily avian carnage at their facility.

The irony of that position is stunning: The NFL makes massive marketing use of birds like eagles (Philadelphia), falcons (Atlanta), cardinals (Arizona), seahawks (Seattle) and ravens (Baltimore) while at the same time sanctioning the building of stadiums with features that serve as bird death traps.

How big a problem is bird collisions with glass? Huge.

A recent report from federal scientists at the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed that bird-glass collisions are the second-leading human-caused mortality threat faced by birds, with between 400 million and 1 billion birds killed in the U.S. in that fashion every year.

All kinds of birds are affected: hawks, falcons, owls, songbirds. It is one reason why more than 200 species of birds are in decline or otherwise in serious trouble.

I hope the NFL will step in and demonstrate some level of common sense and compassion for wildlife, encouraging the Minnesota Vikings (and other team owners with similar problems) to do the right thing.

Absent that, about 100,000 Viking football fans will be exposed to a lot of “inconvenient truths” each game: the repeated thud as birds crash into a glass wall at 40 miles per hour, and the sight of birds littering the ground at their feet.

Dr. George Fenwick is president of the American Bird Conservancy in Washington, D.C. www.abcbirds.org

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