This nation is fortunate to have a rich avian diversity of over 600 native species, ranging from hummingbirds and warblers, to ducks and geese, to our national symbol, the magnificent bald eagle. Birds have been and continue to be a tremendous historic, aesthetic, recreational and economic resource to the United States and its citizens. Of particular relevance to today's hearing are waterfowl and waterfowl hunting. In 1996, over three million people hunted for migratory birds according to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).
The conservation of this nation's waterfowl resource has long been of interest to NWF. We worked with the Service to prohibit the use of toxic shot in waterfowl hunting because of the mortality caused to birds, especially waterfowl and birds of prey, by the ingestion of spent lead shot. NWF supports the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and worked hard to assist Congress in passing the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. Furthermore, in the interest of conserving waterfowl habitat, among other purposes, we support strengthening the Clean Water Act and the Section 404 wetlands regulatory program. Finally, on behalf of NWF, I am a member of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' Ad Hoc Committee on Baiting, which has addressed this issue.
NWF is here today not only because of our interest in conserving the migratory bird resource, but also because of our long-standing support for properly regulated utilization of wildlife. Our nation's migratory bird resource must be properly managed and protected to provide a continuing rich and diverse avian heritage for future generations. H.R. 2863, the Migratory Bird Treaty Reform Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on September 10, 1998 and the subject of today's hearing, concerns the regulations for hunting of migratory birds, particularly with respect to baiting of waterfowl.
The placement of bait to facilitate taking of waterfowl has long been illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This has long been accepted as consistent with the spirit of `fair chase' as well as necessary to facilitate the maintenance of waterfowl populations. As waterfowl are particularly susceptible to baiting, NWF believes not only that baiting of waterfowl is unethical for hunting purposes, but should continue to be illegal as well. However, at present, a hunter who has no knowledge of a baited situation or that hunted birds are influenced by bait can be found in violation of the baiting regulations. With this in mind, we understand and support fine-tuning of the baiting regulations to ensure fairness to hunters while protecting the migratory bird resource from being hunted over bait. Instead of ' strict liability', H.R. 2863 would require that "the person knows or reasonably should know that the area is a baited area."
While the change seems appropriate for protecting innocent hunters, it is quite possible that the change could open a loophole in the law, thereby facilitating unethical hunters (poachers) in attracting waterfowl by baiting, and making it more difficult for law enforcement officers to successfully prosecute them. This in turn, could have a significant impact on the waterfowl resource. As the Service testified on this issue last year in the U. S. House of Representatives, they do not know what impact this will have on the waterfowl resource.
NWF opposes H.R. 2863 on the grounds that changes to migratory bird regulations are most appropriately established within the regulatory rather than legislative arena. These regulations require complex analysis and implementation, with special knowledge by trained professionals in wildlife conservation and law enforcement. Furthermore, the Service needs the flexibility, which is impossible to obtain in the legislative process, to make necessary regulatory adjustments as dictated by unpredictable and highly variable environments and conditions inherent to the management of the migratory bird resource. Managers must be able to adjust quickly in order not to compromise the control or management of legal harvest and the waterfowl resource itself.
Furthermore, the Service is currently engaged in a public review process and has solicited comments from the general public regarding the issues addressed in H.R. 2863. While the Service has proposed no change to the regulations, which has undoubtedly inspired Congress to take up this issue, the Service is still soliciting public comments (until October 1, 1998). Legislative action at this time would render moot, and in fact interrupt mid-stream, the public review process which is underway. Legislative action at this time is premature.
In summary, the NWF urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make regulatory/policy changes to the migratory bird regulations pertaining to baiting, and that Congress not take legislative action.
Thank you again for this opportunity to testify.