The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced proposed revisions to their regulations governing migratory bird and eagle permits. The proposed changes span several sections of regulations and several permit types. Comments on the proposed changes are due 31 July.
A summary of the proposed changes is below; additional articles on the Ornithology Exchange in the coming weeks will delve further into the details of the various changes.
The proposal would modify five existing regulatory authorizations, and propose several new regulatory authorizations.
The Airborne Hunting Act prohibits the use of an aircraft to harass any wildlife, which includes migratory birds. Current regulations authorize the harassment of migratory birds under the AHA under depredation permits. The proposal would expand this to allow authorization of aircraft use (including drone use) that may potentially harass migratory birds under migratory bird permits or eagle permits.
The USFWS proposes a new authorization for any person to salvage migratory birds found dead. Any salvaged bird must be promptly disposed of by donation to a person or entity authorized to receive them, such as for purposes of education or science, or disposed of by complete destruction. (Contact the USFWS Migratory Bird Program to determine if an entity is authorized to receive donated birds). Salvaged birds cannot be retained for personal use, sold, bartered, or traded. Anyone salvaging birds should follow all applicable Federal, State, and/or local guidance for safe handling and disposal of dead wildlife.
Currently, a permit from USFWS is required to salvage dead birds. Eliminating this permit requirement will relieve the administrative burden of the permitting process for both the agency and for those who salvage birds with some regularity.
Current regulations also require that, if someone without a salvage permit finds an eagle, they must notify a local, State, or Federal wildlife agency that has authorization to salvage the eagle, parts, or feathers. The agency then sends the items to the National Eagle Repository. Current salvage permit conditions require that salvaged eagles, parts, and feathers be disposed of by donation to the National Eagle Repository.
Under the proposal, the agency would continue to require that any salvaged bald eagles or golden eagles be donated to the National Eagle Repository and to allow the National Eagle Repository to determine if eagles, parts, or feathers are unsuitable for distribution. However, the proposed rule provides that, if determined unsuitable by the National Eagle Repository, those items could be donated for scientific or exhibition purposes or completely destroyed.
The current regulations authorize certain public entities to possess migratory bird specimens. The proposal would change to this authorization by restricting the authorizations to the possession of specimens only ( i.e., excluding live birds) and expanding this authorization to all public entities. Additional revisions would incorporate current universal permit conditions required in possession permits for educational use under the special purpose regulations.
Public Institutions—Authorization for Exhibition Use of Eagle Specimens -
Under the current rules, an eagle exhibition permit is required to possess eagle specimens for exhibition purposes. The proposal would allow public museums, public scientific societies, and public zoological parks to possess eagle specimens for exhibition use without a permit.
Licensed Veterinarians Authorization -
Under the current rule, licensed veterinarians are authorized to provide veterinary care of sick, injured, and orphaned migratory birds including eagles. The proposal would edit the existing language to improve readability, clarify what is included in veterinary care, and clarify expectations regarding disposition of live and dead migratory birds.
Mortality Event Authorization -
Regulations currently authorize natural resource and public health agency employees to address avian disease outbreaks without a permit. The USFWS' proposal would clarify the existing language and expand the current scope of this authorization from disease outbreaks to all mortality events. The primary use of this regulatory authorization is to respond to avian infectious disease outbreaks, such as avian influenza or West Nile virus. The proposed authorization also clarifies that take of asymptomatic birds for activities such as disease monitoring is not covered by this regulatory authorization. Instead, agencies conducting disease monitoring of asymptomatic, live birds should obtain a scientific collecting permit.
Natural Resource Agency Employees Authorization -
USFWS and State wildlife agency employees are authorized under special purpose permits to salvage birds, use migratory bird specimens for educational programs, transport birds to medical care, and relocate birds in harm's way. The USFWS is proposing to establish a new regulatory authorization for these activities and no longer require a permit.
Law Enforcement Authorization (Proposed for Revision) -
Regulations currently authorize Department of the Interior law enforcement personnel to conduct certain activities without a permit. The proposal would clarify that this authorization pertains to all law enforcement agencies authorized to enforce laws consistent with the MBTA or Eagle Protection Act, as long as they are performing official law enforcement duties. It would also allow law enforcement agents to temporarily designate authority to another individual to acquire, possess, transport, or dispose of migratory birds on behalf of law enforcement in certain circumstances—for example, to pick up and dispose of a deceased bird in a remote area.
Humane and Healthful Conditions Definition -
Regulations currently require any live wildlife to be possessed under “humane and healthful conditions” but do not provide a definition of that term. The agency has proposed adding a definition: humane and healthful conditions means using methods supported by the best available science that minimize fear, pain, stress, and suffering of a migratory bird held in possession. This definition applies during capture, possession (temporary or long term), or transport. Humane and healthful conditions pertain to handling (e.g., during capture, care, release, restraint, and training), housing (whether temporary, permanent, or during transport), shelter, feeding and watering, sanitation, ventilation, protection from predators and vermin, and, as applicable, enrichment, veterinary care, and euthanasia.
Rehabilitation Regulations -
The proposal would remove the reference to the Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation (2000) as guidelines for evaluating the adequacy of caging dimensions, and instead move the reference to policy, so that the regulations do not need to be updated through rule making with each update of those standards.
Removal of Birds from Buildings -
Current regulations include a regulatory authorization that authorizes any person to remove a migratory bird from the interior of a building or structure. The proposal would expand the authorization from the current text of “residence or a commercial or government building” to “residence, business, or similar human-occupied building or structure,” so that structures similar to buildings, such as belltowers, are also included.
Stay tuned to the News from the Ornithological Council forum for more on these changes!