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USFWS proposes to authorize citizen salvage without a permit

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released a proposal with a number of changes to its regulations regarding permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. You can read a summary of those proposed changes here. Comments are being accepted on the proposal though 31 July. Read on to learn more about the proposed changes to salvage authorization specifically.

Currently, a permit is required for any person to salvage (i.e., pick up) migratory birds found dead, including parts, feathers, nonviable eggs, and inactive nests. Last week’s proposal would instead create a new regulatory authorization so that any person could salvage dead migratory birds (as well as feather, inactive nests and nonviable eggs). Of course, Federal, State, and/or local guidance for safe handling and disposal of dead wildlife should always be followed. All birds salvaged must be promptly disposed of by donation to a person or entity authorized to receive them or disposed of by complete destruction. Birds may not be retained for personal use, sold, bartered, or traded.

Private citizens often find dead birds and take the carcasses to museums. However, because those citizens are not currently legally authorized to pick up the dead birds, the museums (and university teaching collections) are often reluctant to accept them. If a person who finds a dead bird is discouraged from bringing that specimen to a museum, valuable educational and scientific material is lost.

The Ornithological Council has long supported a citizen salvage policy or regulation. With this new rule in place, valuable scientific and educational information will be retained. In addition, the proposal would relieve the administrative burden of the permitting process for both the USFWS and for those who salvage birds with some regularity.

In addition to permitting citizen salvage of migratory birds, the proposal also addresses the disposition of salvaged bald eagles and golden eagles. Currently, salvage permit conditions require that salvaged eagles, parts, and feathers be donated to the National Eagle Repository. If someone without a salvage permit finds an eagle, they must notify a wildlife agency with authorization to salvage the eagle, which will then send it to the National Eagle Repository. However, most wildlife agencies have limited capacity to to this, meaning that many found eagles do not reach the National Eagle Repository.

Under the proposed regulation, any salvaged bald eagles or golden eagles would still be donated to the National Eagle Repository. However, if determined unsuitable by the National Eagle Repository, they could be donated for scientific or exhibition purposes or completely destroyed.

The proposal also includes a new regulatory authorization for USFWS and state wildlife agency employees, which would allow them to salvage birds, use migratory bird specimens for educational programs, transport birds to medical care, and relocate birds in harm’s way without a permit. This change would facilitate agency employees conducting routine activities and reduce the administrative burden of the permit process on both the USFWS and other natural resource agencies.

The proposed language for these new authorizations is below. Thoughts on the changes? The USFWS is collecting public comment through 31 July. Remember, while these changes have been proposed by the USFWS, they are not yet effective - meaning that, for now, a permit is still required for salvage. Stay tuned to the ‘News from the OC’ forum on Ornithology Exchange to follow the rule-making process for this proposal.

Proposed regulatory language:

§ 21.16 Salvage authorization.

The regulations in this section authorize salvage activities and provide an exception to permit requirements for these activities.

(a) Salvage of migratory birds. Any person may salvage migratory bird specimens under the conditions set forth in this section. Specimens include whole birds found dead, parts, and feathers, including bald eagles and golden eagles. Inactive nests and nonviable eggs, except for those of bald eagles or golden eagles, may also be salvaged under the regulations in this section. This authorization does not apply to live birds, viable eggs, or active nests.

(1) All salvaged specimens must be disposed of within 7 calendar days.

(2) You must tag each specimen intended for donation with the date, location of salvage, and the name and contact information of the person who salvaged the specimen. The tag must remain with the specimen.

(3) Nonviable eggs may not be salvaged during breeding season unless you are sufficiently skilled and able to discern viable eggs from nonviable eggs. Salvage of viable eggs is not authorized.

(4) If you encounter a migratory bird with a Federal band, you must report the band to the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory.

(b) Disposition of bald eagles and golden eagles.

(1) If you salvage a whole bald eagle or golden eagle (eagle), part of an eagle (e.g., wing or tail), or feathers, you must immediately contact the National Eagle Repository and follow the Repository’s instructions on transferring the eagle, parts, or feathers to the Repository.

(2) If you salvage an eagle specimen that are not accepted by or the National Eagle Repository provides written authorization for donation of eagle specimen type listed in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, you may donate specimens to a public museum, public scientific society, or public zoological park authorized to receive eagle specimens for scientific or exhibition purposes under a valid permit authorization (50 CFR 22.15) or permit (50 CFR 22.50).

(3) If not disposed of in accordance with the regulations in paragraphs (b)(1) or (2) of this section, eagle specimens must be disposed of at the direction of the Service Office of Law Enforcement. Personal use is not authorized. Eagles may not be held in possession for more than 7 calendar days and may not be sold, bartered, or offered for purchase, sale, or barter.

(c) Disposition of all other migratory birds.

(1) Except for bald eagles or golden eagles, migratory bird specimens may be disposed of by donation to any person or institution authorized to receive them under a valid permit or regulatory authorization.

(2) If not donated, migratory bird specimens must be disposed of by destroying specimens in accordance with Federal, State, and local laws and ordinances. Personal use is not authorized. Birds, parts, nests, and eggs may not be held in possession for more than 7 calendar days and may not be purchased, sold, bartered, or offered for purchase, sale, or barter.

(d) Records. You must maintain records of all donated birds, including eagles sent to the National Eagle Repository for 5 years. Records must include species, specimen type, date, location salvaged, and recipient. At any reasonable time upon request by the Service, you must allow the Service to inspect any birds held under this authorization and to review any records kept.

(e) Other requirements. Additional Federal, State, Tribal, or Territorial permits may be required. This authorization does not grant land access. You are responsible for obtaining permission from landowners when necessary and for complying with other applicable laws.

(f) Reporting to law enforcement. You must notify the Service Office of Law Enforcement (see 50 CFR 10.22 for contact information) if you suspect birds were illegally killed or if five or more birds are found dead and there is a risk of mortality due to disease.

§ 21.34 Natural resource agency employees authorization.

(a) Excepted activities. While performing their official duties, employees of Federal, State, Territorial, and federally recognized Tribal natural resource agencies may conduct the following activities without a permit:

(1) Salvage. Natural resource agency employees may salvage migratory bird remains found dead in accordance with the salvage authorization (§ 21.16).

(2) Educational use. Natural resource agency employees may possess migratory bird specimens for conservation education programs in accordance with the authorizations for use of educational specimens (§ 21.18) and the exhibition of eagle specimens (50 CFR 22.15). A permit is required to possess live birds, viable eggs, or active nests for educational use.

(3) Transport. Natural resource agency employees may transport sick, injured, or orphaned birds in accordance with
§ 21.76(a). If transport is not feasible within 24 hours, follow the instructions of a federally permitted migratory bird rehabilitator to provide supportive care, retain in an appropriate enclosure for up to 72 hours, or euthanize the birds.

(4) Relocate. Natural resource agency employees may trap and relocate migratory birds, nests, eggs, and chicks in accordance with § 21.14. Employees are authorized to conduct these activities to remove birds from structures or whenever birds or humans are at risk if birds are not relocated. Additional authorization is required for bald eagles, golden eagles, or migratory birds on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (50 CFR 17.11).

(b) Volunteers and contractors. Individuals under the direct supervision of an agency employee (e.g., volunteers or agents under contract to the agency) may, within the scope of their official duties, conduct the activities authorized by this authorization. An authorized individual must have a designation letter from the agency describing the activities that may be conducted by the individual and any date and location restrictions that apply.

(c) Official capacity. Employees and other authorized individuals must act within their official duties, training, and experience when conducting authorized activities, especially when handling live birds. Live birds must always be cared for under humane and healthful conditions as defined in § 21.6.

(d) Records. Agencies must keep records for 5 years of activities conducted under this authorization. The records must include the species and number of birds, the type of activity, date, and disposition.

About the Ornithological Council

The Ornithological Council is a consortium of 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 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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