Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Idiots and US Federal Wildlife Law

This afternoon while out on Beer Can Island at the north tip of Longboat Key in Manatee County I didn't really see any exciting weather other than the substantial winds. Because of the winds all manner of bird life was hunkered down facing into the wind trying to conserve energy as these Black Skimmers and other species are demonstrating. This was a stressful time for them because they were unable to forage in the winds and were burning up energy just trying to keep from getting blown away.

As I watched this group of Black Skimmers, Forster's Terns, Sandwich Terns, Laughing Gulls and Sanderlings, I noticed one Piping Plover in the group. The Piping Plover is protected by the Endangered Species Act. The other species mentioned are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A major difference between the two laws is that ESA has a provision prohibiting "harassment" of a listed species. Paraphrasing the rules, "harassment" can be defined as "altering the normal behavior of a species." The Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not have this provision.

These two laws immediately popped into my head when, just after taking the pictures above some nitwit 12 year old kid from Oklahoma here on a visit with granny and grandpa, decided it would be just cool as hell to race through the flock of birds and make them take flight. When he flushed the flock he also flushed the Piping Plover and when that happened he committed "harassment." Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that is ok, but under the Endangered Species Act its a violation of the "take" provisions of the Act. The 12 year old Okie, with granny and grandpa watching on, willfully broke Federal law.

I learned about their home state when I raced up to the grandparents and identified myself (with my business card carrying Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of the Interior logos) as a retired US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, and informed them as forcefully as possible that their 12 year old grandson had just violated Federal law.

Grandpa said "Well, we're from Oklahoma and don't know about these laws." Tough!! You probably are a Republican and no doubt voted for Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn for Senate. Stupidity isn't a defense. I informed Grandpa that the law was the same in Okieland as it is here in Florida and anywhere else in the country. I then recited the provisions for harassment and take, then took out my Blackberry and told them that they had two options.

"You have two options. You can leave this beach right now and never harass an endangered species again, or I can call our Special Agent in Tampa and have him cite you for take under the Endangered Species Act." I then added "$10,000 in fines and 6 months in the slammer might help you understand why you don't harass birds."

The Okie's thought they had just seen God or something and started walking away from the beach without saying a word. I followed them back to the parking lot and wrote down their license plate number. If I see them again the same thing will happen.

Only next time I need to have the phone number for our Special Agent in Tampa programmed into my Blackberry so I can actually call instead of just make it seem like I am.

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