OC bimonthly newsBRIEF June-July 2018

The Ornithological Council is pleased to provide this bimonthly report covering activities from June-July 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.

Please contact our Executive Director with questions or concerns about this report or about any other matter of concern to your society or your society’s members.

In this time period, the Ornithological Council:

  1. Submitted a second set of comments to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare of the National Institutes of Health pertaining to the potential reform of animal welfare laws, as mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act. These comments focused on specific changes that the animal welfare agencies (OLAW and the Animal Care program of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) are considering. As before, the OC focused on burdens to the researcher (as opposed to the institution) and the use of these policies to better animal welfare. The OC comments supported the idea of continuing review using risk-based methodology (a logical extension of the standard operating procedure concept); harmonizing guidance issued by the two agencies; streamlining the guidance; refraining from regulating via guidance (which actually violates the law!); expanding the scope of guidance documents to include the taxon-based materials such as Guidelines to the Use of Wild Birds in Research: much more extensive opportunity for stakeholder input into guidance documents.
  2. Pursued discussion with the USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management about many long-standing permit policy and procedures problems. Met with Eric Kershner (Branch Chief for the Branch of Conservation, Permits, and Policy) and Ken Richkus (Deputy Division Chief and Acting Division Chief since Brad Bortner retired). For the first time in many years, we are hopeful that our persistent efforts are about to bear fruit!  Key among these changes underway: an upcoming online permit application and reporting system (!) that may be completed as soon as February 2019, extending permit duration, and completing long-pending standard operating procedure manuals and the scientific collecting policy (which has been in draft since 1995).
  3. Met with Aurelia Skipwith, the Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary (and acting Assistant Secretary) for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to urge DOI support for the efforts of the USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management, including funding for the online permit application and reporting system, staffing, and efforts to reform and streamline permit procedures. During that meeting, OC also informed Ms. Skipwith of the decades of effort by OC and others to reach an agreement with the National Park Service (NPS)  regarding the ownership of specimens collected on NPS land. This problem was on the brink of resolution via a “permanent custody” agreement. The NPS was planning a press conference and a pilot project comprising five museums but then suddenly and without explanation reversed course and and left things to stand in the same unsatisfactory situation that had been problematic for biology collections for at least 30 years. At the same time, the OC asked Ms. Skipwith to look into the petition filed by the OC in 2014 to suspend or revoke the CITES “validation” requirement, which has proved unworkable and has the potential to result in the loss of valuable imported research material.
  4. Submitted a request to USDA regulatory reform initiative to increase import permit duration to three years. The only reason for the one-year duration is the need for the fees generated by import applications. The OC explained that extending the permit duration would decrease the agency workload and decrease burden on the stakeholders.
  5. Spearheaded an effort to bring attention to serious resource limitations at the USGS Bird Banding Lab. The OC learned that there is a real possibility that the BBL will not have funding for its current data management software, much less funding for a much-needed upgrade. Loss of the data management system would almost certainly force a shut-down of the banding program, with dire consequences for ornithological research. The OC also learned that the BBL is in need of permission from the Department of the Interior to move forward to fill four approved positions. The OC shared this information with  other organizations -including Ducks Unlimited, the Flyway Councils, the Wildlife Society, and bird observatories – and proposed a sign-on letter to Timothy Petty, Ph.D (DOI Assistant Secretary for Water and Science), but due to the urgency of the situation (department budgets will be submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget on Sept. 10), chose instead to send its own letter and encourage the other organizations to do likewise. To date, the Atlantic Flyway Council, twelve bird observatories, and one independent research institution have sent letters. The OC is attempting to arrange for an in-person meeting with Dr. Petty.
  6. OC is working on a side-by-side-by-side analysis of the new California scientific collecting permit regulation, comparing it to the proposed regulation and with OC requests and suggestions (prepared with the input of numerous ornithologists and research organizations in California); fielded questions from ornithologists, submitted follow-up questions to the agency, and  updated the California permits information on the BIRDNET permits page
  7. Completed the year-end financial analysis and completed the annual 990 tax returns.
  8. Worked with Jeff Stratford, the new chair of the conservation committee of the Wilson Ornithological Society, on options and strategies for that society’s conservation efforts.
  9. Attended the joint meeting of the Association of Field Ornithologists and the Wilson Ornithological Society.
  10. In anticipation of a resolution (or at least a temporary resolution) of the import problems resulting from the implementation of the “ACE” declaration system by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), OC has resumed efforts to update the import manual for scientific specimens and samples. In the meantime, OC has continued to act as a liaison between the research community and the CBP with regard to specific problems that occur.
  11. Investigated a report by the Government Accountability Office pertaining to animal welfare regulations as those regulations pertain to federal agencies. The report is of concern because it addressed the issue of the “field studies” exemption and the long-pending regulations pertaining to birds. The GAO is one of the most highly respected of government agencies but they have no expertise in these issues and no understanding of how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to issue guidance on field studies. The Animal Care program of APHIS, which also lacks such expertise, seems to be continuing its efforts to do just that, and again, with essentially no input from experts.
  12. Circulated the research papers by Joanne Paul-Murphy, Ph.D (supported by the American Ornithological Society) and Andy Engilis (published in the Condor) pertaining to rapid cardiac compression. We explained that these papers should suffice as “scientific justification” to approve a departure (for research funded by NIH, NSF, and certain other federal agencies) until the AVMA changes the classification (at that point, it would no longer be a departure) or, if the AVMA opts not to change the classification, then to continue approving departures.This information was sent to the IACUC-Administrator’s listserve, the Scientists’ Center for Animal Welfare, PRIM&R (a leading research ethics organization), AAAALAC International (a private accreditation organization), the Association of Avian Veterinarians, and the American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians.

Assistance with permits

Assisted 10 individuals with permit issues this month. Names are provided in reports to society leadership.

 

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).

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.

OC bimonthly newsBRIEF (Dec-Jan 2017)

The Ornithological Council is pleased to provide this bimonthly report covering activities from December 2017-January 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. Received word that the USDA APHIS Animal Care program had revised two policy documents – its Animal Care Policy Manual and its Inspection Guide – to conform those documents to the Animal Welfare Act and the Animal Welfare Act regulations with regard to methods of euthanasia. These changes came about as a result of written requests and in-person discussions in 2016 and 2017 between the Ornithological Council and the Animal Care deputy administrator, APHIS general counsel, and other APHIS authorities. Those documents incorporated the AVMA euthanasia guidelines as the only acceptable methods of euthanasia. The documents now read, “Appropriate methods may include, but are not limited to, those described in the “AVMA Guidelines for Euthanasia of Animals” and return the authority for approval of protocols, including methods of euthanasia, to the IACUC, consistent with the AWA.

2. As reported in the Aug-Sept newsBRIEF, OC reached an agreement with APHIS Animal Care to suggest language for a guidance document on the term “field study.” The agency had refused to seek stakeholder input or expertise until the OC asked the APHIS directorate to intervene. The OC has now assembled a discussion group that includes veterinarians from each of three federal agencies and we have asked a colleague from the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare to facilitate the discussion. The draft that we hope to present to Animal Care would then be subject to stakeholder input.

3. OC Executive Director Ellen Paul met with Customs and Border Protection officials to continue a discussion about resolving import problems resulting from the new CBP import declaration system known as ACE. A number of actions were identified and will be pursued, including a webinar about the import requirements of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for ornithological specimens and samples and a companion reference document. For CBP’s part, the agency is exploring the development of an app that will give importers direct, easy access to the declaration system and has reached out to the OC to discuss the development of unique identifiers and other information about the import process. The CBP will also facilitate a meeting between the OC and airline cargo representatives to develop a standard process for ornithologists to assure that their imports appear on the cargo manifests, which will satisfy the mandatory advance notice requirement. At OC’s request CBP is also considering appointing a liaison/trouble-shooter.

4. OC Executive Director Ellen Paul spoke at the initial “21st Century Cures Act” stakeholder meeting organized by the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare and the APHIS Animal Care program. This legislation, enacted in 2016, mandates federal, interagency efforts to reduce administrative burden for researchers and institutions. Specifically, the mandate directs the agencies to complete a review of applicable regulations and policies for the care and use of laboratory [sic] animals. OC intends to participate in the ongoing process as fully as possible to assure that these agencies do not continue to develop policy that is ill-suited to wildlife research.

5. Neared completion of a new website, including state permits update.

6. Continued a major revision of import/export permit guide.

7. Responded to an inquiry from the Forest Service IACUC regarding methods for study of waterbirds; OC provided names of expertise and relevant literature.

8. Submitted a request to the Office of the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior requesting a determination that the Airborne Hunting Act does not prohibit the use of small unmanned aircraft (SUA) in ornithological research and monitoring. The request was supported by a peer-reviewed critical literature review summarizing the impacts of SUA on birds, a detailed legislative history, and a summary of the laws of all 50 states pertaining to drones. A formal petition for rulemaking was also submitted, asking that permits, if needed, be issued by the USFWS. Currently, the USFWS actually has a regulation that prohibits the agency from issuing those permits. OC has also reached out to The Wildlife Society and the Association of State Wildlife Agencies, seeking their support.

9. Continued to urge the USGS leadership to reconsider its decision to terminate its Biological Survey Unit, which curates and manages the USGS collection at the National Museum of Natural History. That decision was premised upon a very large funding cut in the proposed FY17-18 budget. However, the funding cut pending Omnibus appropriations act would be only 1/3 the size of the proposed cut, giving USGS an opportunity to re-visit this decision. The OC also shared the underlying information with the collections community and encouraged others to voice their concerns to the USGS.

10. Reached out to the Association of State Wildlife Agencies, seeking their support for changes in state regulations to exempt wildlife research from the “Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship” requirement, which rarely exists in the context of wildlife research and that, if routinely obeyed, would significantly hinder wildlife research conducted in the field, particularly with regard to access to pharmaceuticals needed for anesthesia and euthanasia.

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

12. Assisted two individuals with animal welfare requirements (names appear in reports to society leadership).

13. Organizational news

The Raptor Research Foundation has appointed two new representatives to the OC Board. Bill Bowerman and Lloyd Kiff will take the places of Paul Napier and Steve Sheffield, each of whom had served on the OC Board since at least 2003.