Netting designed to keep the birds out of a bridge in Petaluma has instead been attracting -- and trapping -- the protected species.
By Karina Ioffee, Patch Editor
After watching swallows die en masse in Petaluma, bird lovers are fighting back.
Conservation and animal protection groups filed a lawsuit last week against the state and federal transportation agencies for failing to remove netting under the Highway 101 bridge they blame for killing more than 100 birds over the past month.
The groups include Native Songbird Care, a Sebastopol-based nonprofit, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Madrone, Marin and Golden Gate Audubon societies.
The netting was placed under the bridge earlier this spring to prevent cliff swallows from nesting there. The birds are federally protected and construction work cannot occur if they are found under a bridge, a favor nesting site for cliff swallows. The netting was placed in preparation for the Sonoma-Marin Narrows project.
Instead of avoiding the spot, the birds continued to gather under the bridge, get entangled and die, according to the plaintiffs. The site is only accessible from the Petaluma River, although it can be seen from Petaluma Boulevard South.
“Incompetence and indifference by Caltrans is killing swallows that have just travelled 6,000 miles to return to a traditional nesting site, which the agency should have known about,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Caltrans could not be immediately reached. In early May, the agency said it had closed the gaps in the netting that were causing cliff swallows to get tangled and said biologists were inspecting work sites at the Petaluma River Bridge and the State Route 116 interchange.
Cliff swallows are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and National Environmental Policy Act. Conservation activists say Caltrans should remove the netting completely and add Teflon coating to the side of the bridge to prevent the birds from landing there.
The lawsuit was filed by the Cotati-based Animal Legal Defense Fund in federal court in the Northern District of California. The Washington, D.C. law firm Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal is assisting in the lawsuit.