Senator Bob Graham's Statement
EPW Hearing on H.R. 2863, the Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act of 1998
Tuesday, September 29, 1998

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee on such an important issue.

Today we are looking at a piece of legislation that is fairly straightforward. It addresses the concerns of hunters throughout the nation that existing enforcement provisions give the Fish and Wildlife Service the authority and the discretion to give citations to any person found hunting on or within a mile of a baited field whether or not there is any evidence to demonstrate that the individual was aware of the condition of the field. By adopting a "known or should have known" standard for enforcement as opposed to a strict liability standard for enforcement, this legislation will offer these individuals an opportunity to defend their actions and demonstrate whether or not they knew of the condition of the field. In addition, this legislation adopts a new provision which makes baiting itself a separate offense, thereby offering an additional protection both for the migratory birds as well as for hunters.

This issue has strong ties to the State of Florida. In 1995, the Fish and Wildlife Service in Dixie County, Florida issued over 80 citations to individuals attending a charity shoot for the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranches. At the same time, several students participating in the event were also issued citations, resulting in the revocation of a Coast Guard officer's commission for one student. These individuals had no recourse or defense against the enforcement actions by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

With that said, I understand that this is not an action that this Committee should take lightly. Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918 which implemented the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds, a treaty signed by the United States and Great Britain for the protection of migratory birds. This law made it illegal to "hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale" bird species including ducks, geese, brants, coots, gallinules, rails, snipes, woodcocks, crows, and mourning and white-winged doves. In 1935, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued regulations for baiting which prohibit hunting over baited areas, except where grain has been scattered through bona fide agricultural operations.

There is a long history of congressional intent to protect these migratory bird species. It is our challenge today to develop a policy that will continue this long-standing commitment while also creating a rational, reasonable policy that will provide fair and equitable treatment to those individuals who choose to hunt within the existing rules.

I look forward to hearing the testimony of today's witnesses which I hope will describe the nuances of the decision we face today.