Following journalist Susan Sward’s recent two-part series in the San Francisco Chronicle about worker’s health concerns at a Trona, CA chemical plant and the on-site bird deaths, I want to provide some background on IBRRC’s involvement in this important bird rescue project.
I’m happy that more information is finally coming out about the impact to migrating birds that land in the remote and expansive wastewater lakes at Searles Valley Minerals. Since 1999, IBRRC has worked with IMC Chemicals, now Searles Valley Minerals, to help reduce the impact of the plant’s effects on birds that mistakenly land in area lakes.
It has been rewarding but difficult, discouraging and extremely sad work for all those that have worked on the project. My reasons for taking on this project were three fold:
First, I wanted to have IBRRC provide expert care for these birds and prove that they could be rehabilitated.
Secondly, it was my reasoning that if we maintained a presence at the site and documented everything about the area’s affect on birds, it could eventually lead to reasonable outcome and correct the chemical plant’s open lakes on the birds.
Thirdly, I wanted it to be known that IBRRC believes these animals are valuable and, although seemingly unimportant to many, are deserving of attention and care. It is the “attitude” behind their demise and the acceptance of the situation out there that I and IBRRC have been at war with. Although this project taxed IBRRC’s time and its staff greatly, we knew that it is only when we “show up” and demonstrate our commitment on a daily basis that things would eventually change.
To be honest, we were laughed at, sabotaged and even threatened in the early days of our involvement with IMC Chemicals. But that eventually gave way to reasonable work relationships with the employees of IMC Chemicals. The credit for much of this is due to the work of Mark Russell, IBRRC’s Trona Project Manager, who worked with IMC Chemicals to make sure that all the plant staff knew our goals and purpose for being involved.
IBRRC has never been in agreement with the “level of take” that California State Fish & Game has allowed the company to have when it came to these birds. I have always believed that this property can be managed in a way that will discourage birds from landing on the water by changing the shape and look of the lakes and doing some other adjustments. When we discussed this with IMC Chemical personnel early on they all told me it was too expensive and was out of the question.
To me the problem lies in that statement. “It’s too expensive” to change the way they are doing business so therefore it is acceptable to kill birds at a level that we all know is higher – more than 4,000 by our counts – than we have been able to document . That is the “attitude” that needs to be changed and although we are understanding and sensitive to the costs of doing business, it is just unacceptable to allow a large number of wild birds to die due to our human practices – especially when there is something that can be done about it.