Save Our Swallows at Fort River Refuge!
SOS is dedicated a group of volunteers working to save the Barn Swallow colony that nests in an abandoned stables building at the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge in Hadley, MA. The property is owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and hosts what may be the largest Barn Swallow colony in MA, with 37 nesting pairs. Barn Swallow populations in New England have declined by 50% since the mid-80s, and trends are not much better nationwide, In Canada Barn Swallows are listed as Threatened. Although they are not presently listed under the U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act, they are of conservation concern to scientists and researchers alike. In spite of this, USFWS appears intent on taking the stables down.
At an August 16 public meeting USFWS stated that they were soliciting public input on five potential options for the future of the stables for the drawing up of their Environmental Assessment. However contrary to considering all options, their actions show that they have pre-decided on demolishing the stables. Evidence for this includes what looks like the beginning of construction of an alternative structure and the gutting of the Stables, thereby compromising its structural integrity.
What’s worse, USFWS states that the Barn Swallows have “too much” space in the stables and that they can attract 90+ percent of nesting pairs to an alternative structure. This, in spite of contrary evidence from world experts on Barn Swallows. Clearly, their assumptions are not grounded in science; habitat selection in Barn Swallows is poorly understood, however recent research shows that what appears to be extra space may provide important roosting habitat and thermal protection. Additionally, many species of aerial insectivores do not use buildings for nesting thus an alternative structure is not practical for them. Alternative structures for Barn Swallows have had poor success when tested, and are not appropriate as a "replacement" for a colony of 37 pairs.
USFWS also claims that the stables building is structurally unsound, however SOS has had the stables building independently inspected by two contractors and a civil engineer; all report that it is sound, apart from the roof, which needs to be replaced and some minor repairs.
SOS has attempted to maintain good communication with USFWS; we have offered to raise funds to fix the roof; a private donor has offered funds for all repairs and maintenance, but these have been turned down. USFWS has not been transparent with their supporters throughout the EA process, and their actions threaten the very wildlife they are charged with protecting.
SOS has hired an Environmental Law Firm to fight to save this important colony. USFWS has received a notice of intent to file suit under the administrative procedure act for failure to comply with NEPA mandates. This means we must to raise funds for legal fees. Your donations will help us make sure that the large and thriving colony of Barn Swallows at Fort River is protected. We thank you for joining our effort to Save Our Swallows!
For more information, you can also visit our FaceBook page at Save Our Swallows.
(Nestlings photograph by Kati Fleming.)