OC bimonthly newsBRIEF (April-May 18)

The Ornithological Council is pleased to provide this bimonthly report covering activities from April-May 2018. Note that this report covers a six-week span of activity; the staff was on vacation for two weeks in April.

The Ornithological Council seeks to:

  • Ensure that the best ornithological science is incorporated into legislative, regulatory, and management decisions that affect birds;
  • Enhance the ability of ornithologists to pursue professional activities; and
  • Promote the influence of ornithology in public affairs.

Our work focuses on animal welfare issues, permits, research funding, and other policies that affect ornithologists and ornithological societies.

In this time period, the Ornithological Council:

  1. Reached an agreement with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to subsume the OC Small Grants Program. The entire OC board was reluctant to discontinue the program, even at the relatively low level of funding we had been able to make available, because the need for a program like this for research in the neotropics is so great and funding is so scarce. However, we had not succeeded in attracting additional funding and were unable to grow the program. Upon learning that the SMBC had been  considering establishing a similar program in honor of the late Russ Greenberg, OC  shared with SMBC director Pete Marra the OC call for proposals, program report, and other documents. He confirmed that he planned to run this grant program for much the same purpose and in much the same manner as the OC program. Realizing that Pete’s reputation and Russ’ renown were such  that the OC ought to that the SMBC had a far greater chance of growing the program, the OC board agreed to consign its grant program to the SMBC. We continue to offer support and to encourage our funders to continue donating.

    2. Continued efforts to persuade the Department of the Interior to develop a drone use policy favorable to ornithologists. Having received and analyzed the response to the FOIA request for records of state-issued permits, which demonstrated that the states had not been issuing permits for research, OC transmitted that information and the records to the DOI Office of the Solicitor, the office that is considering OC’s request on drone use.

    3. Continued discussion with Customs and Border Protection Trade Relations Office to determine how to assure trouble-free hand-carried import of ornithological research materials. Several promising directions had been discussed, including a webinar about wildlife imports and agency requirements for CBP port staff and development of a mobile app for access to the ACE declaration system. At the suggestion of CBP staff, OC submitted a formal request to CBP to move forward with those projects. Unfortunately, there has been some resistance from some parts of the CBP. After brainstorming with the CBP International Trade Liaison we offered another alternative, which entails a simplified customs declaration tailored to non-commercial hand-carried imports. The OC executive director drafted a form that incorporates the necessary elements of the two very complex, technical forms that are currently in use for commercial imports and also incorporates the information of concern to the CBP, such as the declaration and permit requirements of the “partner government agencies” (in this case, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service). After working with CBP diligently for nearly two years, all that time encouraging ornithologists to try every alternative suggested by CBP only to learn that those alternatives are unreliable, and having had our own suggestions meet with resistance, we are considering pursuing the matter to higher-level officials within CBP, Department of Homeland Security, and even the White House Office of Management and Budget.

    4. Wrote comments about the burden of compliance with the animal welfare laws implemented by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Care program and the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. These comments focused on burden to the researchers rather than the institutions and were submitted as part of the OC’s continuing participation in the discussion between the federal agencies and the research community that was mandated under the 21st Century Cures Act. Specific suggestions included formal recognition of taxon-based guidelines, periodic roundtable discussions with the wildlife research community (and other research sectors) and incorporation of the outcomes of those discussions into formal guidance documents such as the ILAR Guide and OLAW guidance; and recognition of constraints imposed by permitting agencies.

    5. Formulated and began implementing a plan of action to address several specific resource problems at the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory. The BBL is in need of funding for maintenance of current technology and technology upgrades to accommodate the influx of banding data. The current technology is obsolete and will need to be replaced in the next several years. It is also in need of authority to fill empty full-time and contract positions, having lost 1/3 of its staff over the past year. The OC is enlisting other organizations that have traditionally been supporters of BBL to work together to address these problems.

    6. Resumption of regulatory activity – after the election, virtually all regulatory activity was put on hold. Although that is typical for all new administrations, there was concern that the anti-regulatory zeal of this administration would send all pending regulatory actions to the grave. As some of those pending regulations would actually be beneficial to ornithological research, OC implored the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Interior to reinstate them. Some months ago, we learned that at least one of the regulatory revisions of concern to ornithologists would be reinstated. When the Spring 2018 regulatory agenda was published in April, this regulatory reform was indeed returned to the list, along with many others. This does not necessarily mean that all these regulatory changes will in fact move forward. For instance, the long-pending revision of the bird banding regulations is now back on the list. However, that revision was seemingly on permanent hiatus due to the need for a NEPA analysis and the need to resolve a problem pertaining to endangered species. The BBL didn’t have the resources to do a NEPA analysis then; with a loss of 1/3 of its staff members in the past year, it will be unable to move forward now. The same is true of most of the other regulations pertaining to Migratory Bird Treaty Act species. The USFWS staffing levels are critically low; at the moment, there are no permanent staff in the Division of Migratory Bird Management. Nonetheless, we do expect the proposed fee rule to move forward, along with an update to the MBTA list, an extension of permit duration for some permit types, and changes to the import/export rules (necessitated by the new Customs and Border Protection requirements, among other things). We also expect the CITES regulation revisions to move forward. These latter two revisions are of particular concern to the OC as we filed petitions for regulatory changes nearly four years ago and were told that the agency decisions on those petitions would be incorporated into these regulatory changes.

    7. Met with staff at The Wildlife Society to discuss a potential Memorandum of Agreement to undertake joint efforts on a variety of research policy issues, including legal restrictions on the use of controlled substances for euthanasia and anesthesia in wildlife studies in the field. Even absent a formal agreement, we plan to work together on that problem.

    Assisted 15 individuals with permit questions/problems or animal welfare issues (names are provided in reports to society leadership).