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USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released a proposed policy document, “Research Involving Free-living Wild Species In Their Natural Habitat,” to assist research institutions in determining whether an activity involving free-living wild animals in their natural habitat meets the regulatory definition of “field study.” The proposed policy describes criteria that research facilities could use to identify activities that are invasive, harmful, or that materially alter animal behavior.
The proposed policy provides examples of activities that are and are not field studies. Under the policy, activities involving free-living wild animals in their natural habitat that meet the definition of a field study and are not regulated under the Animal Welfare Act include:
- Activities that do not involve an invasive procedure and that do not harm or materially alter the behavior of an animal.
- Activities in which animals are temporarily held captive in a manner that does not harm or materially alter their behavior and the animals are subsequently released.
- Activities in which animal handling does not cause harm or physical or behavioral alterations that materially impair function.
Procedures including handling, restraint, capture and containment that are not invasive and do not harm or materially alter the behavior of the study animal, such as but not limited to:
- ear tagging using routine methods (for most species),
- minimally invasive placement of microchips and radio collars, or
- collecting small samples of peripheral blood or tissues resulting in minimal impact to the animal.
Activities involving free-living wild animals in their natural habitat that do not meet the definition of “field study” and therefore must follow AWA requirements include:
A study that involves an invasive procedure or that harms an animal, such as but not limited to:
- intra-cardiac blood collections
- arterial/venous cut downs
- surgical procedures
- Procedures designed to cause the death of an animal by methods other than those that meet the AWA regulatory definition for “euthanasia”
Procedures that materially alter the behavior or impair the function of an animal under study, such as but not limited to:
- removing an animal’s digit that is necessary for digging/climbing
- partial amputation of an animal’s tail that is used for digging/climbing
- use of hormones or pheromones to change mating or migration patterns other than for wildlife management activities
To read the full policy, click here.
APHIS is accepting comments until 12 October, online or in writing to Docket No. APHIS-2020-0087, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.
If you have feedback on the examples provided by APHIS in the proposed policy that could be useful to the Ornithological Council as we develop our comments on the proposal, please contact Laura Bies at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Background: A 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office audit, entitled “Animal Use in Federal Research,” recommended that the provide research facilities with clear criteria for identifying field studies covered under the Animal Welfare Act regulations. The criteria would cover studies that facilities are required to include in the annual report of animal use submitted to APHIS, as well as studies that are not required to be reported.
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Photo credit: Noah Kahn