More seabird deaths this summer from Oregon drivers

ASTORIA — There's been no letup in the summer carnage of seabirds killed by drivers on Oregon coastal beaches.

Sharnelle Fee, director of the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, said she found the bodies of eight protected seabirds on Saturday, scattered on the sand just north of the entrance to Gearhart Beach.

Fee has found the bodies of dead birds just about every week this summer. In June, a young motorist hit and killed nearly 50 seabirds near Long Beach, Wash., north of Astoria.

"In many instances, the tides just wash the bodies away," Fee said. "I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg."

Shorebirds are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which makes it a misdemeanor to injure or kill them. If convicted, perpetrators face a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $15,000 fine. But few people are caught.

"Nobody gets prosecuted unless you catch them," agrees Bob Hahn, a retired Clatsop County sheriff's sergeant who patrols the beaches. He has been firing off news releases this summer and offering rewards of as much as $1,000 for information leading to an arrest.

"Nobody stopped so we don't know what happened," said Tom Bergin, Clatsop County sheriff. The scene bore the usual signs of a bird kill, with the bodies bloodied and a swirl of tire tracks on the beach, Fee said.

It's legal under Oregon law to drive on designated sections of the beach up to a maximum of 25 miles per hour. If vehicles are moving much faster, seabirds do not have enough time to scatter. The birds found last weekend included five Caspian terns and three California gulls. One was a juvenile while the others were mature and healthy.

"They have to do a lot of living to get to a reproductive age," Fee said. "They usually only raise one baby so it takes a lot to replace an adult that's been killed. And they're not always successful in reproducing every year."

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