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  • APHIS releases final guidance on field studies

    Laura Bies
    • Author: Laura Bies

      The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released a policy document, “Research Involving Free-living Wild Species In Their Natural Habitat," to provide guidance regarding field studies and the Animal Welfare Act. 

    In September, the 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 described criteria that research facilities could use to identify activities that are invasive, harmful, or that materially alter animal behavior. 

    The agency has now issued final guidance, in the form of a Tech Note.

    Under that guidance, activities involving free-living wild animals in their natural habitat that meet the definition of a field study and are therefore exempt from IACUC review include procedures where pain/distress is slight or momentary and does not impact well-being, such as observational studies where no animals are captured or handled and where human presence does not impact animal behavior. 

    Activities involving free-living wild animals in their natural habitat that do not meet the definition of “field study” and are therefore covered under the AWA regulations and require IACUC oversight include: 

    1. Studies that involve an invasive procedure, such as major operative procedures, intra-cardiac blood collections, arterial/venous cut downs for catheter placement, or surgical implantation of devices

    2. Studies that harms an animal, such as instances where: 

    - the animal experiences pain/distress above minimal and slight;

    - the animal experiences trauma, overheating, excessive cooling, behavioral stress, physical harm, or unnecessary discomfort as a result of handling;

    - the animal experiences death as a result of the work, in a manner that does not meet the regulatory definition of “euthanasia”: or

    - the animal experiences impaired function such as amputation of a tail/digit used for digging or climbing. 

    3. Procedures that materially alter the behavior, such as:

    - the use of hormones or pheromones to change mating or migration patterns for research purposes;

    - repeated nest/den disturbance during breeding and rearing of young; or

    - relocation of migratory animals beyond natural migration routes. 

    Read the full policy here

    Read the comments submitted by the Ornithological Council on the proposal here.

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