Andrew French, Manager
Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it will demolish and remove Bri-Mar Stable at the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Hadley, Mass., noting that the deteriorating structure is beyond repair and poses a major safety threat to refuge staff and visitors—including barn swallows.
In its Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Environmental Assessment (EA) of the stable removal, the Service’s selected alternative, also known as Alternative C, calls for demolishing the stable before the next nesting season to eliminate the threat of a possible structural failure of the building, potentially when the barn swallows are present. Approximately 40 pairs of barn swallows nested in the stable in 2019. Refuge staff also will restore habitat at the site.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act, a FONSI is issued when environmental analysis and review during the EA process find a project to have no significant impacts on the quality of the environment. The EA provides a decision-making framework that explores a reasonable range of alternatives to meet project objectives, evaluates potential issues and impacts to the refuge, resources and values, and if needed, identifies mitigation measures to lessen the degree or extent of these impacts.
The EA for removal of the stable evaluated the effects associated with three alternatives: Alternative A (phased closure and delayed demolition -- the preferred alternative in the EA); Alternative B (no action); and Alternative C (removing the stable). In selecting Alternative C, the Service noted the condition of the stable had declined substantially since the release of the EA in March 2019, prompting heightened concerns that the building may collapse.
“Even a partial building collapse could threaten refuge staff and visitors, possible nesting barn swallows, an adjacent refuge building with stored equipment for the refuge complex, and the main electrical power transformer for the refuge located adjacent to the building,” the FONSI document states. “A small portion of the second floor has already collapsed under its own weight, and floor joists and primary support beams supporting the second floor appear to be close to failure due to prolonged exposure to water and related ongoing decay.”
Acknowledging local concerns about the fate of barn swallows that have inhabited the stable during nesting season in spring and summer, Refuge Manager Andy French said refuge staff will continue working to provide suitable habitat and nesting areas for the birds in other locations on refuge land and within the larger Connecticut River watershed area.
A study of barn swallow nesting biology at Bri-Mar Stable released in November by Mass Audubon and the Service noted that refuge staff have identified barn swallows using at least 10 other local structures, with at least one that may be comparable to the size of the barn swallow colony that has occupied Bri-Mar Stable. French said the hot walker/boat house building near the stable recently had the roof replaced and will remain available for barn swallow nesting incidental to the refuge’s operational and equipment storage needs.
“We are confident the Bri-Mar colony will find alternative nesting sites in the area,” French said. “Our refuge staff is working and will continue to work with partners and the public to make sure the barn swallows have a home when they return in the spring.”
Barn swallows are not a federally endangered or threatened species, although they and many other aerial insectivores are showing population declines in many portions of their North American range, including New England. According to the Partners in Flight Populations Estimates Database, barn swallows are the most widely distributed and abundant swallow species worldwide with a global population of approximately 190 million.
French said the Service is committed to supporting ongoing public dialog, research, and conservation efforts with partners to better understand and help address regional population declines of barn swallows and other aerial insectivores (insect-eating birds and bats). He said people and groups interested in helping with this effort can contact him directly.
The EA was available for a 56-day public review and comment period during which 751 comments were submitted. In addition, the Service hosted an informational meeting during the public comment period, providing a forum to share information, discuss ideas and answer questions about the project.
To view the FONSI decision document and response to comments, the EA, and frequently asked questions related to the issue, visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Silvio_O_Conte/News/Bri-Mar-Stable.html
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