Loons in Minnesota could benefit from BP oil spill settlement

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Minnesota is home to more loons than any other state in the nation, and efforts to help those birds may get a financial boost out of the $18.7 billion Gulf oil spill settlement that was announced last week.

British Petroleum agreed to the amount, the largest environmental settlement in history, to settle civil claims that arose after the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

If the settlement is approved in court, the money "would help repair the damage done to the Gulf economy, fisheries, wetlands and wildlife; and it would bring lasting benefits to the Gulf region for generations to come," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a news release.

Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have a combined loon population of an estimated 16,000, are in line to receive some of the money – up to $39 million over the next 15 years, according to the Star Tribune. They would be the only states outside the Gulf Coast region to get a share of the settlement.

That's because researchers here have shown that loons migrate to the Gulf of Mexico each year; and that many were contaminated during the disaster by the oil itself, as well as by the chemicals that were used to disperse the oil, the Star Tribune reports.

About 200 of the birds died immediately. Those that survived have passed along various health problems through their eggs, DNR researcher Carrol Henderson said in an interview with MPR News.

Henderson and the DNR have been conducting research on the health of loons in Minnesota since the spill. The U.S. Geological Survey is also looking at the migration patterns of loons by tracking them with satellite transmitters, according to the Star Tribune.

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The research so far has shown that adult loons from Minnesota are still migrating to the areas affected by the oil spill. Samples of blood, tissue and eggs show the birds have been contaminated by oil and dispersant chemicals, which could cause long-term problems including reproductive failure and premature death.

Assuming the settlement is approved, Minnesota would use the proceeds to help boost the loon population by buying stretches of shoreline along various lakes that the birds use for nesting.

The DNR is also proposing a new program that would encourage anglers to stop using lead weights and jigs, which poison and kill the birds when they eat them, according to the Star Tribune.

It will likely be several months before the settlement gets final court approval.

The DNR has more information about loons in Minnesota here.

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