Despite at least six years of Brown pelican fatalities along a busy stretch of valley roadway, the well-documented primary cause of vehicles hitting the birds has yet to be addressed, and the potential for a serious accident looms.
Boyd Blihovde, Manager Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, “It is a disaster waiting to happen in my opinion. If something isn’t done soon, there is easily going to be some type of a major accident there.”
Approximately 20 brown pelicans were struck and killed by vehicles on Highway 48 between Brownsville and Port Isabel during the recent cold front. Boyd Blihovde was one of some dozen volunteers that prevented the death toll from being much worse.
“It would have easily been over 200 pelicans likely killed if there weren’t so many volunteers there to help.”
Unfortunately, pelican deaths have occurred for at least the past six years along this stretch of busy highway as pelicans are forced to fly into strong north winds while attempting to reach their roosting site in the Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
Many of the pelicans crash into three concrete barriers separating four lanes of traffic and extending along the highway’s shoulder. The solid four-foot high walls atop the raised roadway create a deadly downdraft forcing the birds onto the road.
Last year, more than 100 pelicans were killed in separate incidents, and this spurred the organization of a volunteer “Pelican Team” to help remove birds from the highway and carry them across the road to safety.
Thanks to the efforts of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Parks and Wildlife and others, traffic along this 75 mile per hour stretch of highway across the Gayman Channel was temporarily slowed, but the potential for a tragic accident looms.
Blihovde says, “It is an emergency. We really need to do something quick…We are hoping to talk to TxDOT about at least some temporary measures that would maybe include removing some of the concrete barriers to produce some gaps in that barrier so that wind can get thru, and the pelicans can have a way to get across that road.”