UI’s parakeet purge costs $698.32 for each dead bird

UI’s parakeet purge costs $698.32 for each dead bird
By Ken Dixon, published in The Connecticut Post on December 9, 2005

A total of 179 monk parakeets were killed during the United Illuminating Co.’s three-week campaign to destroy nests on more than 100 utility poles in southwestern Connecticut, the Connecticut Post has learned. Animal-rights activists said Thursday that many more apparently escaped capture by UI crews and death at the hands of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which asphyxiated the birds with carbon dioxide.

Monk Parakeet

Priscilla Feral, president of the Friends of Animals, which withdrew a lawsuit against UI this week after it agreed to stop capturing the birds, said the parrots died senselessly in the $125,000 eradication program.

“That’s $698.32 per dead parrot in costs to taxpayers or rate-payers,” Feral said Thursday after being informed of the death toll. “What a waste.”

She estimated that as many as 400 birds escaped capture and will be homeless this winter as UI tears the nests down over the next three weeks in the second phase of the effort.

Albert Carbone, spokesman for UI, said the $125,000 included the cost of training crews as well as removing the thatched-stick nests, which the utility says have caused up to a dozen power outages annually, plus four transformer fires in recent years.

The cost also included a fee paid to the USDA for euthanizing the monk parakeets – actually green parrots the size of pigeons that have lived along the Connecticut shore for more than 30 years, nesting in fir trees and oaks as well as utility poles.

Dwight G. Smith, chairman of the biology department at Southern Connecticut State University who has studied the parrots for years, said Thursday he is convinced UI didn’t fully consider nonlethal alternatives when it developed its eradication effort, which began with no public notice the week of Nov. 14.

“I and others would be very interested in searching for a solution that’s positive for the birds and positive for UI that doesn’t involves killing anything, especially an animal that’s generally well-liked by the public and brightens an urban environment,” he said.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House James A. Amann, D-Milford, said he hopes the General Assembly, which removed protections from the birds in 2003, can work with the utility and the state Department of Environmental Protection to allow UI to clear nests from poles without killing the birds.

USDA spokeswoman Corey L. Slavitt said Thursday that the department’s regional office in Amherst, Mass., which assisted UI, reported the total at 179 euthanized birds. She could not say whether the euthanasia program was permanently shut down after an agreement in a Superior Court judge’s office this week.

“The USDA is seeking formal clarification of the project status, but we do not anticipate any involvement for the rest of the year,” she said.

Feral has said that the lawsuit, removed without prejudice this week, will be pursued further in the new year in an attempt to stop future bird killings.

Feral said the 103 targeted nests along the coast between West Haven and Fairfield sheltered in some cases dozens of birds. If only 179 were captured and killed, more than twice that number may have escaped the nighttime raids, she said.

Up to 40 birds have been found in the larger nests, some of which dramatically drape UI poles and transformers.

Some West Haven neighbors have said in recent days that UI has let the nests grow for eight years or more. Feral believes the eradication campaign, first reported in the Connecticut Post on Nov. 17, has become a public relations nightmare for UI.

“I’m not even sure that UI will go ahead now with the tear-down because of the public pressure, but then again why should they worry about that now?” Feral said.

“We are done capturing birds and moving into the nest-removal part of the program,” Carbone said.

He said UI is waiting for a project manager’s decision before tearing down the nests. He said the company would consider developing ways to remove the nests without harming the birds.

Amann said Thursday that he also hopes a long-term answer can be found.

Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the Environment Committee, said he has seen parrots that escaped UI crews on West Haven’s Ocean Avenue, near their raided nests.

“I hope that as UI does continue its program to relieve the pressure on their lines, that they’ll take the utmost care for the safety of the birds,” Roy said.

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