Lawsuit aims to protect migrating swallows from deadly netting draped over bridges used as nesting sites


A coalition of environmental groups has filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing transportation agencies of violating migratory bird laws by installing protective netting across two bridges in the Petaluma, Calif., area that has injured and killed dozens of migrating cliff swallows.

A Caltrans contractor draped the nylon netting over the Petaluma River and Lakeville Overpass bridges along Highway 101, about 30 miles north of San Francisco, as part of an effort to deter cliff swallows from nesting under them, according to the lawsuit.

Each spring, cliff swallows migrate 6,000 miles from South America to nest in rocky cliffs, foothills and under bridges over and near the Petaluma River. The swallows typically build 500 nests under the Petaluma River and Lakeville Overpass bridges alone, environmentalists say.

This year, however, the netting has entangled, injured and killed about 100 cliff swallows since late March, according to the lawsuit filed against the California Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

“At this point, swallows are nesting under the netting, on top of it, next to it and under boards that hold up the netting,” said Jeff Miller, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are better ways to discourage birds from nesting at a construction site.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the Animal Legal Defense Fund on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity; Native Bird Care and Conservation; the Madrone Audubon Society; the Marin Audubon Society; the Golden Gate Audubon Society; and conservationist Veronica Bowers.

It accuses the agencies of violating the National Environmental Policy Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by injuring and killing cliff swallows without a permit from the Secretary of the Interior.


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