Statement by Senator Chafee
Hearing on H.R. 2863, the Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act of 1998
September 29, 1998

Good morning. Today, we will hear testimony on H.R. 2863, the Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act of 1998. This bill was approved by the House of Representatives on September 14, by a vote of 322 to 90, and was referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works. The bill has generated great debate and strong views on both sides of the issue, and this hearing is intended to educate the Committee on these views.

Let me say at the outset that, while this bill is currently on for the agenda of the business meeting scheduled for Friday, it is only tentative, pending the outcome of this hearing. To this end, I would like to hear from the witnesses any recommendations that they may have for changing the bill in the event that we proceed with it.

Let me provide a brief background on the bill, which amends the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This law was enacted in 1918 to implement the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds, between the United States and Great Britain (then having treaty-making power for Canada). The law prohibits taking, hunting and killing of migratory birds, unless permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has broad rulemaking authority.

Under this authority, the Service has generally prohibited hunting with the aid of bait or over baited areas. The violation of this prohibition is a misdemeanor, and since the Act was passed 80 years ago, virtually all courts have interpreted misdemeanor crimes under the Act as strict liability crimes. In 1978, however, the Fifth Circuit held that, before a hunter can be prosecuted for a baiting offense, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the hunter knew or should have known that the area was baited. H.R. 2863 would adopt the standard from the Fifth Circuit as the law of the land. It would also make baiting a separate offense.

As I mentioned, this bill has generated a great deal of fervor and emotion on either side, and I look forward to this morning's testimony from our distinguished panelists. I am especially pleased to welcome Senator Cochran and Senator Breaux, both of whom serve on the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission and who have a great interest in this issue. Senator Breaux introduced his own bill, cosponsored by Senator Cochran, to address these issues, also pending before our Committee.

Thank you all for being here, particularly on such short notice.