Mine Markers– Why do I do it?

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A mining claim marker standing silently for decades capturing and killing birds

When we look around the world these days, we see many problems that need to be fixed and we want to help. As individuals, however, most things are too big for one person to fix alone. On our own, we can’t fix global climate change; we can’t fix poverty; we can’t fix world hunger.

So we find little things where we can make a difference. I watch birds, so I am in tune with problems facing birds. For example, most species of migratory song birds in North America have experienced large population declines in the last 50 years, some declining as much as 90%. Researchers attribute much of this decline to habitat loss on the wintering grounds in South America, and a combination of habitat loss and mortality during the breeding season in North America.

This is too big for me alone to fix.

There are, however, small things that I can do to help the birds. So far as I know, the only population of Inca Doves in Las Vegas lives around my yard. They used to be widespread in southern Nevada, but now you have to go to southern Arizona to find very many of them. I feed and water the birds every day trying to support my little population.

I’m a hiker, and in the last few years, I became aware of another problem that is harming birds. In the western United States, we have about 1 million hollow mining claim markers. Our migratory, cavity nesting birds see these markers and drop in to investigate them as a possible nest site. Unfortunately, they never come out. Knocking down mine markers is something I can do while hiking to make the world a better place for birds.

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Volunteers in Gold Butte taking down a mining claim marker

When I started knocking down markers, I found many dead birds and became appalled by the situation. Now it has become a quest to knock down markers and save birds.

In Gold Butte, I’ve spearheaded efforts to knock down hollow mining claim markers. Our team was assigned (by the BLM and NDOW) 508 Quarter Sections in Gold Butte to search for mine markers. A Section is a square 1 mile on a side, so a Quarter Section is square, 1/2 miles on a side. A square 1/2 miles on a side is a lot of land!

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Volunteer in Gold Butte after taking down a mining claim marker

During late 2015 through 2016, the team searched 456 Quarter Sections and found 289 markers, of which 112 were already down, so we knocked down 177 upright markers. In those upright markers, we found the remains of 342 dead birds, 23 dead mammals (including 4 bats), 19 lizards, and tens of thousands of dead insects (mostly bees and beetles). One marker contained 41 dead birds. Most of the dead birds were Ash-throated Flycatchers, but we found 21 wrens (Canyon, Rock, and Cactus), 10 Western Screech Owls, 1 Ladder-backed Woodpecker, and even 1 European Starling.

We will keep working until the remaining 52 Quarter Sections are cleared, although most of these are on the steep, forested, highest ridges of Virgin Peak and probably will be searched by the BLM using a helicopter during the start of next fire season.

Mining claim markers are a big problem, but this is something I can do to make a difference on my own. We can each make a difference working alone.

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Contents of a mining claim marker: one mummified Ash-throated Flycatcher and eight Ash-throated Flycatcher skulls

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Contents of a mining claim marker: decomposed remains of about 20 Ash-throated Flycatchers