Who could refuse a feathered friend?
SUMMIT COUNTY – Where there are people, there will be landfills. Where there is a landfill, there will be birds. Lots and lots of birds.
A keen observer can see them – driving along Highway 6 between Dillon and Keystone. The birds frequently arc through the northeastern sky above the Summit County Landfill. But what one can’t know simply from looking is that those birds, chiefly gulls and crows, are at the same time a nuisance and protected. They are part of the irony that binds human existence and the environment.
“They are our friends,” said Martin Ayala, site manager for Waste Connections of Colorado, the contractor that runs the landfill for the county.
The irony is that most people move to Summit County to get closer to the environment and yet, they still produce as much waste as city-dwellers. And there, near the cel Energy substation, public firing range and dirt motorcycle tracks, the leftovers of civilization provide the resources for an inadvertent ecosystem – bacteria-feeding bugs; bugs-and-food-waste-feeding birds. The caverns of slash piles, strings and shiny bits of metal provide space and materials for nests.
Birds get in the way of landfill business. They’re in the way of compactors and people dumping trash. They also pose health concerns and problems for overflying planes; that’s why President Clinton signed a law in 2000 restricting how close landfills can be built to airports.
At the same time, though, the birds are protected. They are a nuisance, but landfill operators can’t simply kill them. The Environmental Protection Agency’s published guidelines for running solid waste disposal facilities dictate each landfill must have a bird-deterrent plan. Ayala uses firecracker-like pistol rounds and a propane powered cannon to make noise.
“It’s to scare them off,” Ayala said. “They’re smart, though. Now they fly away when they see me coming. We try to train them, but we lose. Look, I think they’re making faces at me.”
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