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  • Get ready for field season - apply now for your permits!

    Laura Bies
    • Author: Laura Bies

      Field season is right around the corner! If you haven't already applied for your permits/renewals, do it ASAP.

    If you need an permit, the time to apply is...NOW! Do you need one? More than one? What should you do to make the process go quickly and smoothly?

    Your advisor has signed off on your research proposal. You’ve got your funding. Your IACUC has approved your protocols. What stands between you and your field work is a permit - or more than one! There are a number of things that you can do to make sure you get your Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, and state permits in time to get your field work underway.

    It can take up to 90 days to obtain a permit - longer if the permit examiner has questions or concerns. And, if you are applying to work on an endangered species, allow six months because the law requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to publish a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comment on all permits to "take" all species listed as endangered (but not threatened).

    Don't forget your state permits. Most states use the term "scientific collecting" to mean any research activity that involves capture and handling. Don't assume that because your research does not involve lethal take, you don't need a scientific collecting permit. In most states, you will need a state permit, although one or two states have some exceptions for banding permits.

    Helpful hints:

    1. Don't assume that you know if a species is protected. The MBTA list includes over 1,000 bird species, and dozens are listed as threatened or endangered. ALWAYS CHECK THE MBTA AND ESA LISTS.

    2. You can collect blood and feather samples under a banding permit ONLY if the permit expressly authorizes this activity and ONLY if you are also marking the bird. If you are not marking the bird, you must have a scientific collecting permit. If you wish to collect blood and feather samples under your banding permit, you must request that authority when you file your application. It is not automatically allowed under a banding permit.

    3. Yes! You do need a federal scientific collecting permit for every activity that involves capture or handling of a bird protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act other than capture and marking with bands, radio-transmitters, geolocators, patagial tags, neck rings, or other auxiliary markers that are approved by the USGS Bird Banding Lab. If you intend to implant a transmitter (other than subcutaneously), you will need a scientific collecting permit. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and most state agencies use the term "scientific collecting" to encompass all research activities, unlike scientists, for whom that term connotes permanent removal of an animal from the wild.

    4. Apply early! No later than mid-March for a summer field season, and earlier if possible. Although the permit application states that you should allow 60 – 90 days for processing, it might take more time if the permit examiner has questions or if you have to submit additional information. This is particularly true if you are planning to work in more than one region. And, of course, because workflow varies, your permit application might be one of an unusually large number of applications that arrive over a short period of time. The absence of an examiner, planned or otherwise, can cause a back-up. If your permit is delayed for any reason, you and the permit examiner will both be in the frustrating position of having to rush to get the permit in time. If you apply early, these problems are less likely to result in your not having your permit when you need it. If you are planning to start your work in mid-May, for instance, try to apply by mid-January.

    5. Make your requests clear and simple. State exactly what you are seeking permission to do before you go into more detail about the project. See here for examples. 

    6. Remember that for MBTA permits, you are allowed by law to continue the permitted activities if you have applied for renewal at least 30 days prior to the expiration date (and the permit has not been revoked or suspended). So don’t worry that if you apply early, your permit will expire before you can complete your work - just be sure to get your renewal application at least 30 days before the current permit expires and you can continue your work. However, please note that the expired permit does not authorize any new projects that might be included in your renewal application. You must have the renewed permit in hand before you can begin any new projects that were not listed on the expired permit.

    7. Do all you can to be sure your permit covers all the activities that your research project will entail. Having to apply for amendments just increases the workload and your expenses - and slows things down for you and everyone else . For instance, do you anticipate bringing birds into captivity to study in the lab? Be sure you state what you plan to do with the birds when the research is completed. If you don’t plan to release them (or your IACUC won’t approve a protocol that entails release) make sure the permit application asks for authority to keep the birds after the research is completed, or give the birds to a zoo, other researcher, or euthanize the birds and give the carcasses to a museum or teaching collection.

    8. If you plan to work on federal land (such as National Wildlife Refuges, national parks, Forest Service or BLM property), be sure to determine if you need a permit or other authorization.

    9. Under some circumstances, you may need to contact the USFWS to determine if you need an ESA permit, even if you are not studying an ESA species. If you will use non-selective capture techniques ( such as mist nets or rocket nets, for instance) or using other techniques such as predator playback or nest searching in an area where a federally-listed species is known to occur and within the habitats where it occurs, then you should communicate with the endangered Species office. They will determine if you will need an endangered species “Section 10” (incidental take) permit. This would be true for all endangered Species, not just listed bird species. If the endangered Species office determines that your activity is not likely to impact a listed species in the project area, then you should obtain a written determination for your records. It is advisable to contact the endangered Species office before applying for a Section 10 permit; provide as much detail as possible about your project so they can make this determination.

    Finally - READ YOUR PERMITS WHEN YOU RECEIVE THEM! Make sure they allow you to do what you need to do. Make sure you understand the terms and conditions.

    The Ornithological Council provides resources to make securing your permits easier!  Check out our website at BIRDNET.ORG for information on federal permits, state-specific permitting information, and to download the recently updated Guide to the Processes and Procedures for Importing Bird Products into the United State for Scientific Research and Display

    Need help figuring out what permits you need or advice navigating the system? Contact the OC


    About the Ornithological Council

    The Ornithological Council is a consortium of 10 scientific societies of ornithologists; these societies span the Western Hemisphere and the research conducted by their members spans the globe. Their cumulative expertise comprises the knowledge that is fundamental and essential to science-based bird conservation and management.  The Ornithological Council is financially supported by our 10 member societies and the individual ornithologists who value our work. If the OC’s resources are valuable to you, please consider joining one of our member societies or donating directly at Birdnet.org. Thank you for your support!

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