The tragic and preventable killing of Brown pelicans continues this winter along a deadly stretch of valley roadway, but as Richard Moore explains, there is hope on the horizon.
The carcasses of more than 50 Brown pelicans were strewn across Highway 48 earlier this week between Brownsville and Port Isabel near Gayman Channel as the rush of wind from passing cars briefly lifted their lifeless wings.
Unfortunately, this tragic scenario has occurred for nearly 10 years now along this stretch of busy roadway as pelicans fly into strong northerly winds while attempting to reach their roosting site in the Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
Many pelicans crash into the three concrete barriers separating four lanes of traffic and extending along the highway’s shoulder. The solid four-foot high wall atop the raised roadway creates a deadly turbulence forcing low flying birds downward.
For the past several years, motorists have killed more than 100 brown pelicans annually during cold fronts with strong north winds. The death toll would have been much higher if not for a dedicated cadre of volunteers who risk their lives rescuing downed pelicans from the highway during these foul weather events.
The good news is that after years of public outcry, the Texas Department of Transportation is finally wrapping up a protracted study and has agreed to replace the solid outer concrete barriers with “concrete rails,” which they say will eliminate the deadly downdraft.
Octavio Saenz, Texas Department of Transportation Spokesperson says, “The next step is getting rid of those barriers and making sure that vortex doesn’t happen.”
The bad news is that the long overdue fix will not happen until next year.
“We want to do this as soon as possible, so we are hoping that everything will be in place by fall of next year.” Says Saenz.
Throughout this winter volunteers will once again be rescuing pelicans from Highway 48, so please be careful and slow down while traveling this perilous stretch of roadway that is deadly for pelicans and dangerous for their human helpers.