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Congressman DeFazio Introduces Bill to Make Intentional Killing of Protected Birds a Felony

During the first week in November, Representative Peter DeFazio, joined by Representatives Darlene Hooley, David Wu and Earl Blumenauer,  introduced legislation that would amend the Migratory  Bird Treaty Act of 1918 to make it a felony to intentionally kill protected birds. This legislation, if adopted by Congress, would fulfill a longtime priority of the Portland Audubon Society to ensure that bird related crimes are treated with the severity that they deserve. During the past year, Portland Audubon has been actively lobbying the Oregon Congressional Delegation to pursue such an amendment and we applaud Congressman DeFazio’s leadership on this issue.

Congressman DeFazio’s legislation comes less than a month after two Oregon men pleaded guilty to participating in some of the worst bird related crimes since migratory birds were protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Protection Act in 1918. The men were involved in the now infamous “Roller Pigeon Cases” in which Federal Authorities estimate members of the National Birmingham Roller Pigeon Club spanning several states deliberately targeted and killed thousands of hawks and falcons each year in order to prevent these birds of prey from preying upon their free-flying pet pigeons. Despite a recommendation from federal prosecutors to levy fines of $10,000 and a recommendation from defense attorney’s to levy fines of $7500, the court instead imposed lowball sentence of a $4000 fine plus community service and probation. The sentences continue a sad but predictable trend of convicted bird killers escaping with little more than a slap on the wrist, a trend that is perhaps less surprising when one realizes that currently the law makes these crimes only a Class B Misdemeanor, the same penalty ascribed to unauthorized use of the Woodsy Owl and Smokey Bear characters.

The legislation proposed by Congressman DeFazio would create a two tiered penalty provision under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. First it leaves in place the existing Class B Misdemeanor penalty. To be charged with the Class B Misdemeanor, an individual does not have to have acted intentionally in taking a protected bird species. Rather law enforcement officials must only demonstrate that a protected bird was in fact taken as a result of an individual’s actions. The misdemeanor provision has proven to be an incredibly important tool in forcing various industries to address cause of bird mortality such power line electrocutions and pesticide relate mortalities.

Second, it adds a felony provision for those cases in which an individual or organization intentionally harms or kills a protected bird species. For individuals who go out and deliberately target our native birds, the penalties will now be much more severe; the prospect of jail time and large penalties for the most egregious crimes will loom large. The discretion to bring either misdemeanor or felony charges, even in the case of intentional acts, would be at the prosecutor’s discretion meaning that even for lesser intentional crimes, for example the teenage who foolishly uses his bb gun to harm a red-tail, the lesser misdemeanor penalties could be invoked. However for the type of deliberate and wanton killing that we continue to document on an all too regular basis, prosecutors, courts and conservationists would have a much more powerful tool at their disposal. 

Congressman DeFazio’s proposed legislation is as important for the message it sends as for the penalties it creates. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was a ground-breaking piece of conservation legislation when it was created, establishing the first federal protections for more than 800 species of birds. However, nearly a century later the Act needs to be reinvigorated and updated to better reflect 21st century conservation values. Congressman DeFazio’s legislation sends a powerful message to prosecutors, courts and most importantly to future bird killers that deliberate and wanton killing of protected birds should not and will not be tolerated.

Portland Audubon will be working over the course of the next several months to build a national coalition of groups to support this legislation.

Read more: Help Audubon Stop the Illegal Killing of Birds

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