Outhouses may feel like a convenient lifesaver for those who really need to go in the woods, but they can become a nasty deathtrap for birds. Cavity nesters like woodpeckers, Boreal Owls and American Kestrels are going into the dark openings of the ventilation pipes – perhaps to roost, cache some food or build a nest – but they cannot get out and they end up in the holding tank. So, the Teton Raptor Center has created the Poo Poo Project and is partnering with land agencies and organizations in every state, including the Coconino National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park.
“The Poo Poo Project, which is an acronym for Porta-Potty Owl Project, began back in 2010 and that is when a photo of a boreal owl that was stuck down in a vault toilet was circulating on the Internet,” said David Watson, Teton Raptor Center director of development and communications. “It is a photo of that poor little owl looking up from the basement of that vault toilet and you can see the actual toilet framing the picture.”
Since then, the Raptor Center has been working on affordable screens that can be easily installed over the ventilation pipe openings of outdoor toilets.
“So, we came up with a design that has some phalanges that flair out from the screen and those phalanges are actually what sits on top of the vault pipe so there’s a little gap between the vent pipe and the screen,” said Watson. “That way, if there is a lot of snow, there’s still good air flow because there’s always that small little gap around the edge.”
The organization provided 10 screens to the Prescott Audubon Society; two are needed for each outhouse for men’s and women’s stalls. Local Audubon volunteer and retired general contractor Dave Frechette went to work installing the Poo Poo Screens in area campgrounds and trailheads.
“We started with Montezuma Well,” said Prescott Audubon Society Past President Sue Drown. “We gave a pair to the City of Prescott to use at Goldwater Lake. We gave a pair to the Sedona to use in their Sedona Wetlands Preserve and to the Arizona Game and Fish Department to install along the Verde River, east of Paulden, which is an important birding area.”
Watson says the problem is huge on wildlands across the United States, leading to the demise of thousands of birds. “They were going into these vault toilets because the pipe openings look like nest cavities or shelters they would find in nature. They would get down into the bottom of the vault toilet and they couldn’t spread their wings to fly straight up out of a 20-footpipe and they couldn’t crawl up because it’s just that smooth sleek plastic. Those birds would get all caught up in what’s down in there and they couldn’t get out.”
This summer, the Teton Raptor Center reached two major conservation goals for the Poo Poo Project. “One was a Poo Poo Project in every single state and we also wanted to sell our 10,000th screen, which we were able to do,” he said. “The cool part about that was the folks who bought it, Missoula Concrete and Construction up in Montana, actually sell vault toilets and put them in for folks. They were giving away the screens for free to their clients.”
The Teton Raptor Center sells the screens and started a Sponsor-a-Screen Program where people can buy one for $35. “What happens with that screen is we end up finding a partner, maybe in an area we want to focus on and we can offer free screens for those partners. So, for example, this summer we sold about 400 sponsored screens and I think we’ve distributed about 300 of them already back out to organizations that are interested in the Poo Poo Project. The nice thing about that is we circle back to all the donors who sponsor a screen and write them an email that lets them know that, ‘hey, your two screens that you sponsored are in Denali National Park right now getting installed. It’s kind of a great little loop of communication and customer service giving people an opportunity to participate in conservation.”
Poo Poo partners In Arizona include the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. FBN
Bonnie Stevens, FBN
For more information on Teton Raptor Center and the Poo-Poo Project, visit http://tetonraptorcenter.org/.