At popular sites across the country, bird-watchers are facing stricter regulations–in some cases being required to hire a police escort–in the name of national security, the Los Angeles Times reports. Bird-watchers generally walk through the woods, but those woods are often around military bases, wastewater management plants, and dams – places where authorities fear that terrorists, disguised as birders, could lurk or strike. The equipment they carry – binoculars, telescopes and cameras – can make birders look suspicious.
Birding at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel used to require only an annual permit that was easily available via mail, telephone or fax. To enter any of three northern islands, a birder would only have to show the permit, a photo ID and vehicle registration. This year, after Virginia’s Department of Transportation determined that the ventilation buildings on each of the four islands were poorly secured, fences were erected around the buildings and the three northern islands were closed to nonemployees. After protests from birders, individuals or groups of no more than 15 people must arrange visits in advance and pay $50 an hour to be escorted by an off-duty police officer.