OC bimonthly newsBRIEF (Feb-March18)

The Ornithological Council is pleased to provide this bimonthly report covering activities from February -March 2018.

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. Announced the new BIRDNET webpage. The new page has a clean design with a clear emphasis on the resources needed by ornithologists. Prominent links to the permits and animal welfare information are featured on the homepage. We are still adding and updating content, but the state permit pages have been fully updated. We welcome suggestions and comments.

2. Renewed a request to CITES to de-list four species previously classified as Paradisaeidae (birds-of-paradise). De-listing, where warranted by taxonomic status, population status, or trade data, is important because of the extreme and growing restrictions on international movement of CITES-listed species. These species were reclassified by all taxonomic authorities on the basis of research by Cracraft. The request involved a search for the CITES office of Papua New Guinea, which seems to have disappeared, because a proposal from a species range state is far more effective than a proposal from a country where the species does not occur. Eventually, we found good contact information for one CITES office and sent the request to that individual. We also sent a request to the CITES office of Indonesia, because three of the four species occur in West Papua. We also requested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service submit a proposal to de-list but we do not expect that they will do so.

3. Consulted with the members of the AOS Committees on Nomenclature and Classification and Collections and others to discuss options to deal with the inability of CITES to identify a modern taxonomic standard for birds. The CITES Animals Committee uses as a standard reference the 1975 Morony, J.J., Bock, W.J. & Farrand, J., Jr. (1975): Reference List of the Birds of the World. American Museum of Natural History. 207 pp. That reference lists only 159 bird families. There have been at least six major taxonomic standards for all birds of the world published in the intervening 43 years. The current Howard and Moore (2013, 2014) checklist lists 234 families, and, of course involves many more changes in assignment of species and genera to families. Of greater concern is the apparent effort by BirdLife International to persuade CITES to adopt its classification approach which is based, in part, on phenetics, is highly controversial, and has been rejected by virtually all ornithologists. The OC contacted the CITES Secretariat to ask if the Animals Committee would accept an outside, independent review. The Secretariat replied that it would welcome donations to commission its own review, which is potentially problematic given that BirdLife is the IUCN specialist group for CITES. The OC has also suggested other options, such as an international consensus conference. At this point, the discussion has not progressed, in part because we learned that an effort of this nature, coordinated by Frank Gill, will take place at the IOC.

4. Convened an ad hoc group of experts and initiated a discussion about avian first aid in ornithological field research. The experts are: Mark Pokras, DVM, who is a recognized expert in wildlife medicine, avian ecotoxicology, and a life member of the AOS; Lynn Miller, Ph.D., a certified wildlife rehabilitator and former president of the International Wildlife Rehabilitators’ Council who presented an excellent workshop on avian first aid at the 2020 AOU-COS-SCO meeting in San Diego; Patricia Klein, VMD, who currently heads the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of the U.S. Forest Service, and Andrea Patterson (AFO, AOS, WOS), who has extensive banding experience and who has taught a number of classes on applied ethics. The group has been discussing the ethical aspects of such training and we decide to proceed, will identify the best options for teaching and training and will try to identify funding resources. If the material is developed and published, it will comprise an addendum to Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research.

5. Prepared a powerpoint presentation on the restrictions on drones under the Airborne Hunting Act for David Bird, who gave a talk at a meeting of the Wildlife Society’s Western Section. We hope to present a webinar for ornithologists using this powerpoint; it has already been posted on BIRDNET along with the peer-reviewed critical literature review that was submitted to the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior along with the OC’s request for guidance and petition for rulemaking.

6. Completed a survey for chairs and administrators of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (in the U.S.) to assess their understanding and application of the key terms used to determine if a research proposal constitutes a “field study” (which is then exempt from further oversight). The survey was developed in consultation with two veterinarians with extensive experience in IACUC administration and wildlife veterinary medicine and who have also reviewed research projects involving wildlife in the natural habitat. The survey will be distributed through the IACUC Administrator’s listserve and by the Scientists’ Center for Animal Welfare and the results will be used to provide information to the USDA APHIS Animal Care program, which has expressed interest in developing guidance but has no relevant expertise and has not reached out to wildlife biologists for input.

7. Continued to develop input to the U.S. animal welfare agencies, which have been mandated by Congress to study ways to reduce regulatory burden under the 21st Century Cures Act. These agencies have now issued a formal call for comments focusing on specific actions that are under consideration. One of the proposed actions would allow investigators to submit protocols for continuing review using a risk-based methodology. The OC is focusing on the regulatory burdens on researchers and will propose, among other things, formal recognition of expert guidelines such as the Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research and formal recognition of the Model Wildlife Protocol that was developed by the OC and the American Society of Mammalogists.

8. Contacted New Jersey ornithologists regarding restrictions on banding permits issued by that State to determine if those restrictions are problematic and if so, if they would like assistance from the OC in addressing the situation. The discussion is ongoing.

9. Continued to advocate for the continued existence of the USGS Biological Survey Unit (BSU). The USGS had already initiated measures to dismantle the program. The OC persisted in reminding USGS that until the FY18 appropriations bill was enacted, there was no certainty that funding would be unavailable. In fact, the FY 2018 appropriations bill enacted in late March does continue funding for the BSU but “report language” clearly evidences a “wrap-it-up” approach by directing the USGS to formulate a transition plan with the Smithsonian Institution regarding the curation of the Institution’s collection for which the Survey is currently responsible.The OC will continue to press for continuation of the BSU or for additional funding for the National Museum of Natural History for the additional responsibility of managing this collection, coupled with continued collections-based research at USGS.

10. Prepared a powerpoint presentation about permits need to import samples and specimens into the U.S. for webinars that will be offered by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for staffers at the ports. The webinar will be presented multiple times to give the audience an opportunity to ask questions and it will also be posted online so it can be reviewed by those who were unable to participate in the live webinars. In addition, the CBP is arranging a series of meetings with airline cargo managers so we can explore ways that use of the cargo manifest system will help avert problems with imports.

11. Assisted 15 individuals with permit questions/problems (names appear in reports to society leadership).

12. Assisted the following individuals with animal welfare requirements:

None in this time period.

13. Organizational news

The OC annual board meeting was held on March 19. Dan Klem and Gwen Brewer were re-elected as chair and vice-chair, respectively.