Raptors at risk from methane flame


In recent years, the Hackensack Meadowlands has drawn both humans curious about nature and creatures whose survival is tied to the marshes.

Prominent among the latter has been the presence of migratory birds like raptors – birds of prey.

One of the places they enjoy visiting is the Kingsland landfill and marsh in Lyndhurst but their tenancy there has not been undisturbed.

Seems that some of these birds – American kestrels, hawks, osprey and starlings – have been injured and/or killed by a nearly invisible flame that burns off toxic methane from the landfill.

Don Torino, president of the Bergen County Audubon Society (BCAS), says the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is aware of the problem and has recommended potential controls to the landowner, the N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority.

“But, as it stands now,” Torino said, “birds are still getting their tail feathers and wings chipped and burned.”

NJSEA spokesman Brian Aberback offered the following statement on the situation:

“The NJSEA has been meeting with the experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue to protect the health and safety of the avian population in the meadowlands.

“Following the USFWS’s directives, the NJSEA on Friday (Oct. 21) began to remove shrubs, trees and other vegetation in close proximity to the methane flare on the Kingsland landfill. The vegetation may contain prey items that raptors would hunt. Taking down the vegetation was thought by USFWS to be a positive safeguard measure to reduce the likelihood of harm to the birds.”

At the same time, Aberback said, the NJSEA has hired a consultant “to determine what deterrent devices may be installed on the [Kingsland flare] to further mitigate the issue.”

Aberback said that federal regulations dictate that the flare must be operated “to prevent the release of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a harmful and extremely flammable greenhouse gas that poses a danger to humans, wildlife and the environment if allowed to escape into the air.”

Torino suggested that the placement of protective guards on the flare’s cone might aid the birds. Meanwhile, he said, “even if they do change the landscape, it probably still won’t be enough” to prevent injury to the birds that use pipes and nearby utility poles as perches.

“We need a permanent solution – I don’t know what, exactly. Taking the flame away and collecting the methane for some other use is probably the answer but that’s still years away [from development].”

Aberback said the NJSEA “is deeply committed to the well-being of birds” and “has conducted extensive avian research and ecological enhancement that has helped make the region a hospitable habitat for the species, to the point that DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, the home of the NJSEA, has been recognized nationally by Birder’s World magazine as a top birding location.”

The NJSEA sponsors periodic meadows nature walks and bird-spotting outings co-sponsored by the BCAS.

Nonetheless, Torino said, the perils to which the raptors have been exposed “have gone on too long.  We warned the [N.J. Meadowlands Commission, absorbed by the NJSEA in early 2015] two years ago but it went by the wayside. … And we’re still seeing birds going down. It’s probably going on every day.”

At least two birds – a kestrel and an osprey – have been retrieved from the landfill after having been wounded by the flame – for treatment, he said. Typically, he said, it can take a year for a singed tail or wing to heal.

“Not that the NJSEA is the bad guy here,” Torino hastened to add. “Now at least everybody’s on the same page. We’re all scrambling to find the right solution.”

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