FIRST-PERSON: Another head-scratching gov't decision

Baptist Press
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Posted: Apr 15, 2011 5:30 PM

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--When push comes to shove, which is more important: a man's ability to make a living or a nest containing a few birds? According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service it is a no-brainer: the fowl.

When the owner of a marine salvage business based in Jacksonville, Fla., learned that an osprey had built a nest in one of his cranes doing work in the Port of Tampa, he sought to be responsible.

"For four birds, you start thinking about what are the alternatives?" said Jani Salonen, owner of the crane in question. "What are the penalties to just get rid of them?"

What Salonen would soon learn is that even though ospreys are not considered to be endangered and thus not covered by the overbearing and intrusive Endangered Species Act with its penalties, the nesting birds are protected by another federal law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

The statute makes it illegal to "pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell" birds considered migratory. The act does not discriminate between live or dead birds and also grants full protection to any bird parts including feathers, eggs and nests. More than 800 species are currently on the list.

Salonen wanted to do things "by the book," so he contacted the Clearwater Audubon Society for advice, according to WTSP.com. A volunteer arranged to have a nesting platform placed near the crane. He also applied to state and federal wildlife officials seeking permits to legally move the nest.

While Salonen waited, his crane sat idle, costing him an estimated $3,000 a day.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the plan. The osprey and nest were scheduled to be relocated on Monday, April 11. However, just hours before the move was to take place, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service intervened, saying it had denied the permit.

There is no provision in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that allows for moving an active nest for "inconvenience," said a spokesperson for the Wildlife Service. The agency also expressed regret over any adverse "economic impact" the business might experience.

When given the option of helping a businessman who tried to do the right thing, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service didn't think twice. It chose the birds.

Salonen said he had heard of other crane operators who, in similar circumstances, just got rid of the birds. However, he believed going through proper channels was the right approach. When the Audubon Society and Florida's Wildlife Commission signed off on the plan, it seemed he was right. But then the federal agency stepped in and rendered.

"Right now we will keep pushing to get a permit," Salonen said. "If all that fails, obviously, we'll regret doing the right thing."

On Tuesday, April 12, Salonen abandoned his efforts at trying to work and reason with an agency of the federal government. Instead, he chose to illegally relocate the nest, which contained three osprey eggs.

Salonen spent $8000 to move the eggs. The National Audubon Society assisted with the relocation. Nest and eggs are now resting comfortably at the Maitland Center for Bird of Prey.

After paying to have the nest relocated, Salonen estimates the bird incident cost his company $40,000. However, waiting for the eggs to hatch could have taken weeks and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The fine for illegally disturbing an active nest could be as much as $500.

When there is an opportunity to save both the birds and peoples' jobs, Salonen said, "it wasn't a hard choice." You would think an agency of the federal government would feel the same way. Sadly, that is not the case.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to choose a handful of fowl over an honest man's ability to do business was not only foolish, it was just plain foul.

Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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