Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) perches on a tree branch.
Photo Credit: Ken Thomas, 2007

While some birds are content to sift through the mixed birdseed in a backyard feeder, others will be seen nose-diving toward the ground to snatch up their meals in mid-air. Tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) seem to cartwheel through the air as they hunt for mosquitos. Others, like the eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis), prefer to scavenge for insects on the ground – eating whatever cricket, spider, or beetle that passes by. When not hunting, these smaller birds can be found preening on porch railings or chittering away beside the window.


Habitat loss and degradation is the greatest threat to birds and the driving force behind that is long-term development projects and construction. Projects that require months or even years can affect migratory paths and reproduction efforts for any kind of bird species. Recently, the U.S. Treasury has submitted a proposal for a new currency production building and the department drafted an environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess the effects of construction on the surrounding habitats and wildlife. Environmental Review Inc. submitted comments concerning the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) once the public commenting period was opened.

U.S. Treasury Headquarters in Washington D.C. Photograph Attribution: By Sealy j - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62209528


The impact statement declares that construction of a new U.S. Mint will take about three years to complete, and will yield a new building that is one-million square ft (about 23 acres). The EIS states that about 83 acres of vegetated habitat will be permanently removed for this project, an area almost four times as large as the proposed building layout. Within this land, a number of citizen-placed bird boxes have been home to cavity-nesting birds such as the tree swallow and the eastern bluebird. Species like these can be found sleeping in woodpecker-carved tree holes, but when tree cavities are not available they will happily reside in the nesting boxes. In the case of the eastern bluebird, the nesting box projects have played a huge role in sustaining healthy population levels up and down the coast despite widespread habitat loss. The impact statement does not specify when or how these nesting boxes will be relocated, and Environmental Reviewer Kobe Ramirez raises concerns about the lack of details. Given that half of all bird species are cavity-nesters, the EIS should also assess where and when to replace the nesting boxes. The additional information would help properly address the effect of this project on the avian species in the area.


In addition, reviewer Ramirez raises concerns that the impact statement does not properly assess the potential dust and noise emissions on the wildlife in the area. If the project proceeds, large-scale excavation will create dust and noise emissions, which are harmful to children and animals alike. Ramirez pointed out that there is a school, daycare, and recreation center close to the project lines and that two different wetland habitats are within the project boundaries. Without a proper assessment of dust emissions, we can not be confident that the project poses no risk to the children who attend these programs, or to the birds and other animals who reside in these habitats. Given the extensive project timeline and the potential for fugitive dust emissions, Environmental Review Inc. requests more proof of environmental measures to prevent water contamination in the wetlands as well as sensors to monitor air quality near the school and daycare.


Environmental Review Inc. is especially concerned about the project's effect on avian species since the project area and the surrounding wetlands are a popular part of the Atlantic Flyway, a bird migration path used twice a year (in early spring and late summer/early fall). While not all birds travel the entirety of the flyway, some birds like the snowy owl or duck-eider do migrate as far north as Greenland. However, the greater D.C. area, and the mid-Atlantic states like Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia, see a large amount of migration traffic. The Audubon Society estimates that 500 bird species use the Atlantic Flyway, most of which pass through this area. Last September, Maryland environmental groups were sometimes reporting migration totals of over 4 million birds per day, flying over the state. While the draft EIS proposes excavation in the late summer to protect water resources, the impact statement also notes that construction should be severely limited or stopped altogether during the migration period. These statements suggest contradictory timelines, as excavation construction would occur during the height of avian migration down the east coast.


Even though the conservation of any migratory bird species is difficult to manage given their large population distributions (that extends across states and even countries), the efforts to maintain eastern bluebird and tree swallow populations have been largely successful due to citizen nesting box projects. Additional considerations in this proposed impact statement can protect and sustain healthy populations of these species, despite the project’s lengthy construction period and considerable development size.


To read the full version of Kobe Ramirez’s Environmental Review Inc. Comments dated 12-21-20, go here.


Environmental Review, Inc. is a Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation http:// www.envreview.org/