1 Hummingbird Nest Delays Multi-Million Dollar Bridge Renovation

More and more today we see conflicts between development, civilization and the environment. Both sides have great arguments that often get lost in the controversy or conflict between the two.

At what cost to mankind and civilization is the life of a little-known species of fish bird, mammal newt, flower, tree, etc.? That’s the argument made in courtrooms, streets and areas of the great outdoors on a regular basis. But, who’s right?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for saving nature, fish, birds, etc., but I also understand the need for human expansion. I often have one foot on each side of the fence and am often conflicted on which side I really stand.

Take for instance the classic case of the Tennessee Valley Authority and a small insignificant fish called the snail darter:

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“When the Supreme Court considered Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill in 1978, the Little Tennessee River was a freestone stream originating in the hills of Georgia and terminating at its confluence with the Big Tennessee River near Knoxville. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) intended to transform the river into a 30-mile long reservoir by building the Tellico Dam. Congress had authorized funding for the project in 1967 to generate hydroelectricity, create recreational opportunities and flood control, and promote shoreline development.”

“In 1973, an ichthyologist discovered the snail darter in the Little Tennessee, a find that took on great importance four months later when Congress passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). In 1975, the Secretary of the Interior declared that the snail darter was an endangered species, the Little Tennessee was its critical habitat, and the impoundment of water behind the Tellico Dam would result in total destruction of that habitat. With 78 million dollars of public funds spent and the fate of the snail darter on the line, the plaintiffs filed suit in what would be the first major test of the courts’ willingness to enforce the ESA…”

“While the Court recognized the perceived absurdity in forfeiting tens of millions of dollars of public funds for a small fish, it interpreted both the plain language of Section 7 of the ESA and the legislative history as giving highest priority to the preservation of endangered species.”

“While previous versions of the ESA had contained qualifying language ordering federal agencies to protect endangered species only to the extent that was ‘practical and consistent with agency purposes,’ the 1973 Act did not contain such qualifications. Finding that agency discretion and cost-benefit analysis had been purposefully omitted from the ESA of 1973, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ injunction.”

“In response to the Court’s decision, Congress amended Section 7 of the ESA in 1978 to add the so-called ‘God Committee,’ which could consider the economic implications of a plan in order to grant exemptions. Reporting to this committee, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors concluded that the cost of the remaining 5% of the Tellico project would be greater than the benefits, and that the dam would lose 76 cents for every dollar spent.”

“Despite this economic data, Congress eventually bowed to political will and passed a rider on an appropriations bill that exempted the Tellico Dam from the ESA. Construction was completed in 1979, but TVA v. Hill is nonetheless considered a conservation success in that it demonstrated the courts’ willingness to enforce the ESA.”

Now a multi-million bridge project in California is being held up over 1 lone hummingbird nest. Like the infamous snail darter, millions of dollars of progress are being held up over an animal. However, unlike the snail darter, this hummingbird is not on the Endangered Species Act. Instead, it’s protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, among several other federal and international acts.

Meet the Anna’s Hummingbird. A small, green hummingbird common through the southwestern United States. We had an Anna’s hummingbird nest with eggs at our house in Mesa, Arizona many years ago. We watched as the eggs hatched, the two chicks grew and eventually flew away, and that’s exactly what officials are waiting for in California.

The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, is one of three main bridges that span San Francisco Bay. Located about 9 miles north of San Francisco, the bridge on Interstate 580 spans about 4 miles across a narrowing the Bay, connecting Richmond and San Rafael on.

The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is undergoing a $70 million renovation, until workers discovered the hummingbird nest in a tree that was supposed to be removed in order to widen the interstate. At the beginning of that phase of the renovation, the nest with a single egg was discovered. Per the provisions of the Act, workers are banned from removing the nest, the egg or doing anything to prevent the normal process of hatching. Until the baby hummingbird hatches, grows up and finally flies away from the nest, the multi-million renovation project is on hold and workers are either sent to other jobs or forced to sit at home without pay until the little hummer hums away into the Bay sky.

Randy Rentschler of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, speaking about birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, told local news:

“A single hummingbird nest with an egg is going to cost us a couple of weeks. Hummingbirds are on the list, so [we] followed the rules.”

If the hummingbird was a rare and endangered species, then it’s understandable that the multi-million project sits on hold for weeks, but since Anna’s are a very common and plentiful hummingbird from the Pacific coast as far north as southern tip of Alaska down into northern Mexico westward in Arizona and New Mexico, it’s questionable if one lone nest and egg warrant holding up such an enormous project and costing a lot of money in down time.

Progress versus nature. Is there a right solution? Should the nest of one common hummingbird be enough to hold up progress?

Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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