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Open Letter to Daily Norseman on Bird-safe Glass at the New Vikings Stadium

Chris, I read your entries at DailyNorseman.com, in which you weighed in on the Audubon Society's concerns with the New Vikings Stadium and its potential impact on migratory birds. In showing your frustration at the possibility that this issue may delay the Vikings from playing at the stadium in 2016, you made some errors about avian conservation which I'd like to correct.

Minnesota and the Mississippi Flyway Bird Migration

Protecting migrating birds at the Minnesota Vikings Stadium

Minnesotans should join the efforts of the Minnesota chapter of the National Audubon Society in calling on the New Vikings Stadium, and its skyway, to protect migrating birds.

During spring, summer and fall, millions of small birds pass through the Mississippi Flyway, one of the main migration routes in North America.  They are heading north to boreal Minnesota and Canada, or south to places like Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru.

Most Minnesotans have never seen these brilliantly colored warblers, vireos, thrushes, grosbeaks and tanagers.  Part of the reason is that most of them migrate at night, often in swarms of millions.

As these birds pass through state and country, they pollinate flowers, disperse seeds, pray on insects and become pray for snakes or jungle cats or monkeys.  They profoundly affect a variety of habitats as the move through them.  They are small, nearly invisible to us, but are profoundly essential to our economy, and the economies of the many countries they pass through.

The United States takes the protection of migratory birds seriously, and we've entered into treaties with other nations to try to protect their habitats throughout their various routes.  We are losing the battle, as almost all migratory bird populations are in decline.

Making the New Vikings Stadium Safe for Migrating Birds

There are several ways the Vikings Stadium is different from other buildings in Minneapolis, and why the country's most respected bird conservation group is concerned about its vast glass exterior.

Vikings Stadium and Bird Migration

For one, this building is only a few blocks away from a big turn in the Mississippi River; which is the center of a massive funnel of migration called the Mississippi Flyway.

Number two, this building is being built as a nearly invisible arc of glass, stunning, for sure, but also the kind of building that we don't build anymore directly in the way of flyways without considering its environmental impact.

And three, the building is new. Urbanization and human structures do have a huge impact on the sharp declines we are seeing in global bird populations.  But mitigating each old building, many of which have nominal impacts on birds, would be ridiculously costly. Better to focus on new constructions; new buildings demand a higher standard for environmental issues we understand better today.

Four, the construction is funded by public money, and Minnesotans generally have a higher demand for public buildings to do the right thing and to serve the state more broadly. Five, mitigating the effects of a large, public building in the early stages of construction is easy, and focusing on such a building is a great way to set a precedent around protecting migratory birds through Minneapolis in various other forms going forward, including other new constructions along the Mississippi.

Millions of birds won't decide to pummel themselves into this stadium, creating heaps of death at the base of it.  And nobody can reasonably estimate the exact impact of this stadium; the numbers will likely be small, especially in the context of the many other threats these birds face.  But here is the context: the stadium could, in theory, take out a few thousand individuals of a particular species.  That species may have a global population of about one million.  Any new threat to a somewhat small population of migratory animals, along with the dozens of other new emerging threats they face in their four-thousand mile journey, could be all it takes to push that species over the edge, driving it closer to extinction.

Preservation of the outdoors goes hand in hand with Minnesota's rich history of sportsmanship.  The nominal cost of making the new Vikings stadium, and its skyway, friendly to migrating birds is setting a fine precedent for incorporating migrating bird conservation into everything we do.

Correcting Christopher Gates of the Daily Norseman

I am not new to sports journalists showing frustration and disregard for environmental issues when they come in conflict with the sport they cover. While creating such conflict with environmentalists and naturalists will be music to some of your audience's ears, I urge you to consider your opportunity to cover complex topics factually.

On January 16, 2015, you wrote, "At least people griped about those things before the damn stadium was nearly halfway finished."

This is not true. The Audubon Society has been discussing this issue publicly, and with the MSFA, since December 2012.

And, "Not that the bird people care, apparently."

The characterization of Minnesotans who care about preserving biodiversity in their state as somehow being anti-football or anti-sports is without merit. Minnesotans and people from all over the world come to our state to hunt pheasant and ducks and to birdwatch. About 1 in 4 Minnesotans engage in some sort of sport or hobby related to birds, and it's estimated that these activities contribute 30-40 times as much revenue to the Minnesota economy as the Vikings. Bird hunting in the state alone is estimated at bringing half a billion in revenue to the state. The Vikings inject about $50 million into the state each year.

Most Minnesotans and Vikings fan take exception to your mischaracterization of the conservation interests of the Audubon Society and Minnesotan's committed to conserving the migratory routes of passerines as somehow out of a fringe interest or out of lack of concern or pride for the Vikings. Rather, a real Vikings fan has pride in the state itself.

In the same article, you wrote: "But it's not as though the construction of the Vikings' new stadium will cause the skies over the Twin Cities to look like that one Hitchcock movie with all those birds in it."

Conservationists are not claiming that millions of birds will die each year from the stadium. Rather, as I described above, preserving entire species requires attempting to mitigate smaller population declines.

Lastly, you said, "There are plenty of other glass buildings in the Twin Cities, and I don't see any of these folks actively jumping up and down and whining about those. If everyone was that concerned about the birds, the time to have changes made has long passed."

This is also false on several fronts. Avian conservationists in Minnesota have been working with homeowners, businesses and urban populations in the state since the early 2000's on methods to reduce bird collision deaths. They tend to focus on problem buildings and new constructions.

These same conservationists put bird-protection standards into law in 2013 in the form of the Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines, which require buildings with public funding to abide by a number of criteria for the protection of migratory birds.

Large buildings in downtown Minneapolis are not of major concern to conservationists, as this skyline is both farther away from the main migration route and, as a whole, quite obvious to birds as a set of structures to avoid.

Migratory birds tend to die in larger quantities at the hands of specific buildings in specific locations. The Vikings Stadium exemplifies the concerns of bird conservationists.The country's most established and respected bird conservation institution, and several other environmental organizations that work tirelessly each year to educate Minnesotans, are not trying to stop a football stadium, but rather for us to abide by the standards required of public buildings in Minnesota today, to protect the species of this migration route that is so essential to the habitats and economies of a dozen countries.

- Erik