Building Owners in New Lawsuit Over Bird Collision Deaths


As we await a verdict in the first trial of a building owner over bird collision deaths, a second trial over the same issue has just begun in Toronto. Cadillac Fairview Corporation, the owner of three office buildings in the city, has been charged with violating Canada’s Species at Risk Act. The company has pleaded not guilty.

The charges are being brought in a private prosecution by Ecojustice, a Canadian non-profit environmental law firm. The Toronto-based non-profit Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), which works to document and prevent bird collisions with buildings, estimates that the complex is among the most lethal in the city. Ten birds in two species – Canada Warbler and Olive-sided Flycatcher – were killed at the Yonge Corporate Centre buildings and are listed as Threatened under the Canadian Species at Risk Registry. The charges also allege that an additional 800 birds were killed at the complex in 2010.

The highly reflective glass of the deadly buildings mirrors nearby trees and the sky, which likely leads birds to mistakenly fly into the windows and be killed or injured.

“Cost-effective technology now exists to greatly reduce these unnecessary deaths from collisions with buildings, and some U.S. cities, such as San Francisco, have adopted bird-safe standards to ensure they are applied. American Bird Conservancy has just published Bird Friendly Building Design – the first national guide to designing and retrofitting buildings to be safer for birds,” said Dr. Christine Sheppard, Director of American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Collisions Campaign Manager.

The Guide will be especially helpful to architects, planners, building owners and regulators and is available at ABC also has helped design classes eligible for American Institute of Architects sustainable design credit, to instruct architects on how to design beautiful buildings that are also safe for birds.

A verdict is pending in the first trial, against Menkes Developments and related companies who are the owners of the Consilium Place complex (three office buildings) who were charged under Canada’s Environmental Protection Act with discharging a contaminant – light reflected from the glass – that causes harm to animals.

In addition to possible fines under that law, the Menkes companies also face a maximum fine of $60,000 under the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act for causing birds to be in distress.

Ecojustice and Ontario Nature brought the charges in the first case, claiming that the buildings, whose exterior faces are almost entirely glass, are responsible the deaths of about 7,000 birds in the last decade, making them the most deadly in the entire Greater Toronto area.

Almost 30,000 birds were documented to have been killed by such collisions in Toronto between 2000 and 2010, according to FLAP, but estimates suggest the actual toll may be closer to one million.

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.

Washington, D.C., November 9, 2011) American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation organization, has called on the mayors of U.S. cities to stop the epidemic spread of feral cats that threaten national bird populations as well as scores of other wildlife. Letters were mailed to mayors of the fifty largest cities in the United States, urging they support responsible pet ownership and oppose Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs that promote the feeding of outdoor cats.

“Cat overpopulation is a human-caused tragedy that affects the health and well-being of cats, our native wildlife, and the public,” says Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy for ABC in a letter to the mayors. “Numerous published, scientific studies have shown that trap, neuter, re-abandon programs do not reduce feral cat populations, and that outdoor cats, even well-fed ones, kill hundreds of millions of wild birds and other animals each year in the U.S., including endangered species. Birds that nest or feed on the ground are especially vulnerable to cat attacks.”

“What few people seem to understand is that the domestic cat is an extremely effective predator that has been introduced by modern man into an environment whose species have evolved few, if any natural cat defenses. Non-native, well-fed, inoculated, healthy cats versus defenseless prey is about as fair in the world of nature as the proverbial shooting of fish in a barrel,” he said.

Studies indicate that there are 95 million outdoor and feral cats in the United States that kill at least 532 million birds, and possibly significantly more. Given the well-documented impacts of cat predation on wildlife, ABC urges the mayors to oppose TNR programs and the outdoor feeding of cats as a feral cat management option.

Specifically, ABC asks the mayors to issue a policy directive opposing TNR, and to halt city funding for the practice if any is currently being expended. The ABC letter says that dog overpopulation problems aren’t solved by simply turning unwanted dogs loose onto the streets; the same should be true for cats. Ensuring responsible pet ownership is at the core of any long-term solution to the cat overpopulation problem.

“This is a problem in every city in America including our most populous, New York City,” said Schroeder. “Unfortunately we see too many cities abdicating their responsibility to public welfare and wildlife, and embracing TNR programs. We urge Mayors to take a closer look and recognize this doesn’t work to reduce cat populations.”

ABC suggests communities concerned about feral cats work to enact mandatory licensing programs, the fees from which can fund programs to help find homes for the unwanted pets and educate pet owners about keeping their cats indoors. Through the Cats Indoors! Campaign, American Bird Conservancy and its many partners encourage people to keep their cats indoors, train them to go outside on a harness and leash, or build outdoor cat enclosures. Cats should be spayed or neutered before they can produce an unwanted litter, and should never be abandoned. Abandoning cats is illegal in many areas, is extremely cruel to cats, and is harmful to birds and other wildlife. Further, the sanctioning of cat colonies by local officials only serves to encourage cat owners to dump more unwanted cats at these sites.

“TNR is not humane to the cats or the wildlife. Free-roaming cats are in constant danger of being hit by cars, contracting diseases and parasites, or being attacked by other animals or people,” said Schroeder. “Colonies often become dumping grounds for unwanted pets, thus continuing the inhumane cycle.”

Cats can also transmit diseases such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, and cat scratch fever to humans. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared that cats are the top carrier of rabies in domestic animals. In just the last month, about 30 feral cats in northwestern Florida were euthanized following tests that confirmed two feral cats in the area were indeed rabid.

Food left out at TNR colonies attracts not only more cats, but hungry wildlife as well, which increases the chances for interactions with rabid animals. Three people in Florida living in the vicinity of TNR feeding sites were bitten last year by rabid cats and had to undergo rabies treatments.

Federal, state, and local governments have responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect birds. Failing to do so can result in legal penalties and civil liability.

The National Association of Public Health Veterinarians, The Wildlife Society, and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have joined ABC in opposing TNR programs.

These issues are explained in an informative video on TNR and cat colonies, viewable here and on the ABC website.

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