Affects of BP oil spill on loons unknown

The warm temperatures have opened Minnesota’s lakes and started to welcome back the state’s migratory bird population. Wildlife experts are eager to examine the health of birds that wintered in the oil-soaked waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

It is too early to tell if the BP oil spill has caused harm to the birds, but some of the early indications give ornithologists hope.

All eight of the loons currently tracked by the U.S. Geological Survey that wintered in or near the Gulf have made it back up north. But it won’t be until the state Department of Natural Resources completes it’s survey of loons on some 600 lakes that the health of the loon population can be described with certainty.

The St. Cloud Times reports “the loon population measured in the survey has remained fairly stable since 1994, when data was first collected. If the survey shows a sharp drop in loon numbers this year… that could be a red flag.”

The Times also reports that DNR officials want the public’s help “in determining if Minnesota loons are suffering ill effects from the oil spill. They’re asking people who spot dead loons to contact the DNR, which may examine the birds to determine their cause of death.”

The early indications on waterfowl populations are also positive. But human influence isn’t responsible for mitigating the potential loss of wildlife.

The Gulf oil spill wasn’t the duck calamity that some predicted, according to Delta Waterfowl’s scientific director. But Frank Rohwer says the federal assessment to measure the oil spill’s impact on waterfowl lacked leadership, urgency and coherent planning.

“As a scientist, one of my great frustrations is that we have failed to use this disaster to learn how to better deal with any future oil spills,” said Rohwer of Louisiana State University, who was assigned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct the waterfowl assessment (Star Tribune).

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