Ridiculous thrush comment should have been checked out

It was with considerable dismay that we read the recent coverage regarding the proposed construction of the communication towers at Little Whiteface. We are not addressing whether or not the construction should be allowed to proceed, and in fact we completely appreciate the need for these towers. But we are concerned that the article did not present a full suite of accurate facts so that readers can understand the issues and make informed opinions.

In New York, the Bicknell’s thrush only breeds in the Adirondacks and the Catskills. It is currently listed as a species of special concern by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and NatureServe. In addition, as reported by the Enterprise in August 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the status of the Bicknell’s thrush, a declining species, to determine if it should be listed as federally endangered or threatened.

Unfortunately, the Enterprise chose, as the closing statement in the article, to reproduce comments made by the Moriah supervisor on the Enterprise’s Facebook page without checking whether the comments had any validity.

“Like a Hitchcock movie!” he wrote. ” this bird goes to the top of mountains because it is the bully of the bird world, it can’t get along with other birds! Lot of peaks in the Adirondacks with no development, I am sure that they will find a place to nest and do whatever.”

Readers may be misled into thinking these quoted comments have validity. They do not. Bicknell’s aren’t aggressive toward other species, and Bicknell’s biology dictates where they live. They could no more choose to nest in lower elevations in the Adirondacks than polar bears could choose to live in the wilds of Florida. Therefore, we ask the ADE to fact-check by talking to biologists who are familiar with the species. The Enterprise can find experts on the biology of Bicknell’s thrush at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies or the Wildlife Conservation Society in Saranac Lake, and ornithologists at federal and state agencies as well as academic institutions such as Paul Smith’s College.

Bicknell’s thrushes raise their young from about May 15 to Aug. 1. The original proposal (as reported by the Enterprise) was to delay the construction until after those dates, three months from now. We wonder if the construction could be completed after Aug. 1 with negligible additional risk to human safety. The Olympic Regional Development Authority has been commendable in its accommodation of minimizing impacts on this sensitive population. Mention of ORDA’s willingness and ability to collaborate ethically and responsibly should have been reported as an example of how construction (e.g., a new ski lift and runs on Lookout Mountain) has been accommodated in the past.

According to the Enterprise, the Adirondack Park Agency approved this project last year contingent on avoiding construction during breeding season. Why did Essex County not work on a compromise long before this week? We also wonder about the precedent of ignoring the need to amend a unit management plan. Is this typical practice? We are sure that information is available, and we think readers should know.

Birding means big business. In the U.S., 17.8 million birders take trips to watch birds, averaging 13 days away from home, spending $3.9 billion on lodging, and $5.5 billion on food (2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation). In the Adirondacks, the bird that they travel most to see (and spend money in the process) is the Bicknell’s thrush. Readers should know that the Bicknell’s is a key driver of the wildlife watching component of the Adirondack economy. Hundreds of birders, even from other countries, visit the Adirondacks every year hoping to see a Bicknell’s thrush, and Whiteface Mountain in the easiest place to see the species anywhere in its small Northeastern range. These birders hire local guides, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and pay the toll to drive up Whiteface, all for the chance to spot this rarity.

In conclusion, when reporting on wildlife issues, we ask the Enterprise to seek the full set of facts by talking to wildlife experts about the biology and status of the species in these stories.

Charlotte L. Demers is president of the board of Northern New York Audubon, which is based in Tupper Lake and represents the St. Lawrence, Lake Champlain and northern Adirondack region.