New Vikings stadium will hurt more than just birds

We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in the history of our planet — a time when species are disappearing at a rate greater than when the dinosaurs vanished — and it is because of us. Case in point, scientists estimate 750 million to one billion birds are injured and die in collisions with windows every year in the United States. If the new Vikings Stadium is constructed as planned, we can be certain that number will rise. Over two years ago, the Department of Natural Resources brought to the attention of Minnesota Viking’s management concerns that their proposed glass-enclosed stadium, positioned beside the Mississippi River, a major flyway, will pose a serious threat to migratory birds.

Shortly thereafter, Audubon Minnesota held meetings with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to discuss options for changing the glass to something bird-friendly and energy efficient. Initially, Vikings officials rejected the idea of using a transparent, UV-reflecting glass, which would accomplish these goals, because of the cost.

Instead, they opted for a cheaper alternative — fritted glass. Semi-transparent “frit” is applied in a pattern to break up the transparency of the glass. However, in a classic “quarterback sneak” the MSFA waited until construction began before stating “It’s not a cost issue, it’s a design issue,” and refusing to change the glass. There is a cost to killing birds. In 2013, a power company was fined $1 million for killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds. The reason the company was subject to these penalties is because they admitted they knew ahead of time their structures would likely kill birds.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act allows for a maximum fine of $500 a bird. Based partly on eight years of surveys in downtown Minneapolis, experts predict the stadium will kill many hundreds of birds. Will we the tax payers be the ones to foot the bill?

A far greater cost comes with the loss of ecosystem services birds provide us. Perhaps the greatest of these is pest control. By keeping insect pests in check, birds reduce the use of hazardous chemical insecticides. After tens of thousands of emails and calls and over 73,000 signees to a petition demanding bird-safe glass, Audubon again turned to the MSFA and to 3M to develop a bird-safe film for the stadium.

However, with no guarantee of the timing or efficacy of such a product, the fate of the birds is still very much “up in the air.” Ignorant people mock, “If the birds can’t see the impending disaster right in front of them in time to change course, then they deserve their fate.” Cannot the same be said for the human race?