Some wildlife conservationists and communications industry members have reached an understanding about how to start giving migrating birds safer flights when they take wing in the vicinity of wireless and broadcast towers.

In a memorandum submitted this month (May) to the Federal Communications Commission, the ad hoc group recommended the FCC develop interim standards on the issue and suggested a framework for the standards.

The agreement seems like a good first step in protecting the interests of both the communications industry and the birds. LBA Group Inc. has followed the issue closely because of the company’s ongoing commitment to services that mitigate tower hazards (for man and bird alike) and to full utilization of existing towers through antenna tower colocation.

The FCC sought the agreement because it is being forced to change the Antenna Structure Registration program. A federal appeals court ruled two years ago that the ASR program did not adequately factor in concerns of conservationists about the hazards of towers to birds. The commission was told to reevaluate the tower approval process and to increase the public’s involvement in it.

Antenna Tower
Antenna Tower

The memorandum of understanding essentially concedes that tower guidelines should be developed to mitigate the bird problem. However, it recommends that the tighter regulations be reserved for towers for which an ASR is required, thus exempting many shorter and replacement towers. It also recommends that not every tower be required to undergo an environmental assessment, which industry observers believe could turn a tower application into a year-long process.

Finally, the group recommended the FCC work up a preferred lighting scheme for towers.

“We urge the FCC to adopt the interim standards in the memorandum as it addresses the delicate balance between the migratory birds issue with the wireless industry’s ability to deploy and expand ubiquitous, innovative wireless broadband and voice services for all Americans,” said Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA-The Wireless Association®. “We look forward to proceeding with these mutually beneficial proposals so we can thoughtfully construct and place wireless towers throughout the country.”

Other industry spokesmen echoed Largent’s remarks, as did conservationist members of the group. Robert Irvin, a senior vice president at Defenders of Wildlife, urged the FCC to move ahead. “The recommendations will conserve migratory birds while furthering growth in communications technology. By adopting these standards, the FCC will demonstrate that progress in technology can go hand in hand with the protection of our treasured wildlife.”

The agreement masks an underlying dispute about just how much danger the towers and their guy wires pose to migrating flocks. While there is no question that at least thousands of birds are killed and injured annually when their flights intersect the towers, the magnitude of the threat is unclear.

Wildlife conservation groups themselves can only broadly estimate the loss of fowl life, conjecturing that between 5 million and 50 million birds die from tower encounters. However, if the 80,000 or so towers around the country are bringing down even 1 million birds a year – an average of 13 birds per tower – that probably is enough to warrant a look at new lighting and other fowl safeguards.

Through its suite of FCC and NEPA compliance services, LBA can help tower owners and users reduce their exposure to these kinds of regulatory dilemmas. LBA Technology lets some tower users entirely avoid the new-tower problem through its expert AM antenna colocation program and colocation intermodulation studies. LBA also is a national leader in AM detuning, RF hazard auditing, remediation, and RF safety training – all part of its trademarked RFGreen environmental safety services.

The groups authoring the memorandum to the FCC were the Infrastructure Coalition (comprised of CTIA-The Wireless Association®, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Association of Tower Erectors and PCIA-The Wireless Infrastructure Association) and the Conservation Group (comprised of the American Bird Conservancy, the Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society).

About The Author

LBA Group, Inc. has 50 years of experience in providing RF asset solutions and risk management for industrial and telecommunications infrastructure assets. The group is comprised of LBA Technology, a leading manufacturer and integrator of radio frequency systems, lightning protection and EMC equipment for broadcast, industrial and government users worldwide; the professional consultancy Lawrence Behr Associates and LBA University, providing on-site and online professional training. The companies are based in Greenville, N.C., USA.

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