Proposed policy will limit OC services to members

The Ornithological Council (OC) has provided the ornithological community with individualized expert advice regarding permitting and animal welfare issues for more than 25 years. However, due to financial constraints imposed by a change in society membership in the OC, the OC Board is considering adopting a new policy that would restrict the assistance of the OC staff on permitting and animal welfare issues to only those individuals who are members of the 10 societies that make up the OC. This change is due to the withdrawal of financial support by the American Ornithological Society as of July 1, 2020.

Almost all funding for the Ornithological Council’s activities come from its member societies, with some coming from individual donors. The Ornithological Council (OC) was founded in 1992 as a non-profit organization by the American Ornithologists’ Union, Association of Field Ornithologists, Cooper Ornithological Society, Pacific Seabird Group, Raptor Research Foundation, Waterbird Society, and Wilson Ornithological Society. The Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (now BirdsCaribbean), Seccíon Mexicana del Consejo Internacional para la Preservacíon de las Aves (CIPAMEX), the Society of Canadian Ornithologists/Société des Ornithologistes du Canada, the Neotropical Ornithological Society, and the North American Crane Working Group have joined in recent years. The American Ornithologists’ Union and the Cooper Ornithological Society merged to form the American Ornithological Society in 2018 and then withdrew from the OC effective 1 July 2020.

With the recent change in the OC’s funding, the organization’s resources are extremely strained. The Executive Director position has moved from a full-time to a half-time position and the OC Board is forced to consider this change in policy. Under the new policy, the OC staff would only be able to offer individualized, expert advice on permitting and animal welfare issues to individuals who are members of one of the OC member societies. This will allow the OC to continue to provide resources and services for the ornithologists who support the professional societies who in turn support the OC. Advice will be provided to individuals who are not members of an OC society only in cases of demonstrated financial hardship.

We realize that many members of the ornithological community are members of just the American Ornithological Society and not other OC member societies, and therefore they will not be eligible for assistance from the OC. While the OC offers valuable resources to the ornithological community as a whole and to the public for free, making all services free without restriction is not sustainable.

If this proposed change in policy means that you will no longer be able to take advantage of the OC’s expertise and you feel this will be a detriment to you professionally, please consider reaching out to AOS directly and explaining the value of the OC to you and the ornithological community. You might also consider becoming a member of an OC member society.

OC Submits Comments on MBTA draft EIS

The Ornithological Council submitted comments on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the draft Environmental Impact Statement that the Service prepared to analyze the effects of their proposal to no longer enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in cases of incidental take.  Our comments conclude that the draft EIS is simply insufficient to assess the potential effects of the proposal.

The EIS itself is relatively brief – only 69 pages, as opposed to the government average 586 pages. The analysis of the effects on migratory birds is only a few paragraphs.  Understanding the effect of no longer prohibiting incidental take under the MBTA is obviously a huge task, requiring information about all the species protected under the Act. What the Service prepared comes no where close to achieving this. In its comments the OC recommended that the Service abandon this planning effort and begin again with a new document that is subject to peer review and which includes a path forward that involves best practices to prevent incidental take and cooperation between the Service and industry.

BACKGROUND: Until this administration, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was interpreted to cover both intentional and unintentional take (harm or killing) of species covered by the Act. The USFWS under this administration developed a policy known as an M-Opinion, which is internal agency policy, stating that the law does not prohibit incidental take of migratory bird species protected under the Act. In January, it released a regulatory proposal to codify that interpretation and in June it released the draft EIS for public comment.

OC Bimonthly NewsBRIEF May-June 2020

The Ornithological Council is pleased to provide this bimonthly report covering activities from May – June 2020.
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. We greatly appreciate your support.
In this time period, the Ornithological Council:
  1. Affected a staff transition. Ellen Paul, who served as the Ornithological Council’s Executive Director for over twenty years, left the organization at the end of May. We thank Ellen for her tireless work on behalf of ornithologists. Laura Bies, previously the director of government affairs at The Wildlife Society and a freelance conservation policy analyst, joined OC’s staff as the new Executive Director.
  1. Posted on information on Ornithology Exchange regarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for their proposal to exclude incidental take from the jurisdiction of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the upcoming regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on animal welfare as it pertains to birds, the adoption by AAALAC of the AVMA’s Euthanasia Guidelines, and USPS’s decisions to no longer accept hand written customs forms. 
  1. Draft comments regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulatory proposal to exclude incidental take from the jurisdiction of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  
  1. Prepared annual reports for three member societies — the Pacific Seabird Group, the Wilson Ornithological Society and the Association of Field Ornithologists — reporting on the OC’s activities for the preceding year. 
  1. Prepared a major revision of the Guide to the Permits and Procedures for Importing Bird Products into the U.S. for Scientific Research and Display. 
  1. Assisted two individuals with permit questions and one with a question about professional society participation. 

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).