Senator Trent Lott
Statement before the Environment and Public Works Committee
in Support of Migratory Bird Treaty Act Reforms
29 September 1998

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for the opportunity to show my support for legislation seeking to amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. I appreciate the Committee's willingness hold hearings and mark up this bill, which was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives this summer.

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, for the past 80 years there has been relatively little controversy over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations governing migratory birds. In fact, the enforcement of these regulations has had a beneficial impact on their populations. One regulation, however, has sparked tremendous debate and has been inconsistently enforced across the United States.

This regulation states that if an individual is hunting over a baited field -- whether he knows it or not -- he is guilty. There is no defense and there is no opportunity to present evidence in a case. If there is bait, the hunter is guilty. Automatically guilty. It does not matter how much bait was present -- a handful or a field-full. It does not matter if the bait actually attracted the birds or not. It does not matter how far the bait is from the hunting venue. If the bait and the hunter are there simultaneously, the hunter is guilty. Case closed.

I have been a hunter for many, many years, and I agree that baiting a field is an unacceptable action. However, I maintain that continuing to apply this strict liability legal standard to baiting cases is wrong and unfair. In fact, I believe that it violates one of our most precious and fundamental constitutional protections -- that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Mr. Chairman, this strict liability standard is unreasonable. During this hearing, I hope that the Committee hears from those who have been unfairly trapped by this unbending regulation. I also hope that you will also hear from those who have