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  • Pima County seeks to mitigate hidden threat to wildlife: open-topped vertical pipes

    Jun 19, 2017 | Read More News
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    File: open-topped vertical pipe inspectionPima County’s Office of Sustainability and Conservation, together with staff from the Regional Flood Control District and Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation, is helping lead an ongoing effort to protect the local bird population (as well as other small animals) from an often overlooked but ubiquitous threat - open-topped vertical pipes.

    These pipes come in many forms: septic system or toilet vents, exhaust ducts on buildings, irrigation tubes, parking lot bollards, even fence and sign posts. Any open vertical pipe between one and 12 inches in diameter with smooth walls can trap birds and other wildlife.

    Species that nest in natural cavities in trees or cactus face a particularly high chance of becoming trapped in open vertical pipes according to Julia Fonseca, an environmental planning manager with the Office of Sustainability and Conservation. 

    “Woodpeckers, owls, ash-throated flycatchers and many other birds will naturally investigate those spaces as potential homes. They drop inside, then find themselves unable to spread their wings wide enough to fly,” said Fonseca. “And the smooth sides make it impossible for them to climb out and they die from dehydration or starvation if the heat doesn’t kill them first.”

    Pima County constantly works to identify, mark and fill or cap as many open-topped vertical pipes on park lands as possible.

    Ian Murray, a conservation biologist with Pima County, reports finding some 200 open pipes on Pima County open space preserves in 2016, with the effort continuing into 2017.

    “These types of pipes pose an extensive threat but one with a simple solution,” Murray said. “In most cases, we simply fill the opening with rocks, a quick and easy way to prevent unnecessary bird deaths.”

    Pima County encourages landowners who may have open-topped vertical pipes on their land to cover or fill these wildlife trapping hazards. It is important that members of the public be mindful of private property and not alter or remove any such pipes from private property or from public lands. Contact the appropriate land manager (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, etc.) if such a hazard is noticed on public lands. Any open-topped vertical pipes found on County property should be reported to Ian Murray at 520.724.9489 or by email at

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