Increasing Penalties for Killing Protected Birds
Every month that goes by, we see more heinous and illegal killing of federally protected migratory birds. In February, two red-tailed hawks were gunned down in the Puget Sound area of Washington state. In March, a golden eagle was tortured in central Utah and the bird’s tail feathers were ripped out. Then two bald eagles were shot in eastern Washington, one in Ford and another in Riverside State Park.
It’s a constant drumbeat of cruelty and disregard for the law, because the federal penalties are too weak to be a deterrent. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, thanks to the leadership of Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), last week approved a bill which had passed the House last year and if enacted would put more teeth into the federal law that protects eagles, hawks, falcons, and other raptors from intentional maiming and killing.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act Penalty and Enforcement Act—S. 2811 by Sen. Merkley and H.R. 2062 by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)—would strengthen the penalties for intentionally killing federally protected birds. As we have seen in our work to combat illegal dogfighting and cockfighting, people treat anemic fines as simply a cost of doing business, and are only deterred by tougher consequences.
I wrote last year about one of the most shocking and sickening scourges of bird-related crime in recent years, in which members of “roller pigeon clubs”—enthusiasts of domestic pigeons specially bred for their seizure-like ability to do rapid backward somersaults while flying—deliberately killed peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks, and red-tailed hawks by shooting, trapping, poisoning, clubbing, suffocating them with bleach and ammonia, baiting birds into glass panels, and even baiting birds with pigeons rigged with fishing hooks and Drano liquid. The club members had no fear of meaningful penalties and even boasted of their crime spree on public web sites.
This legislation will finally give federal prosecutors and wildlife law enforcement agents the option to pursue hefty fines and prison sentences against serial bird killers. It has already passed the House, and now the Senate must act with urgency.