Tuesday, June 21, 2005

a specific madness in government

On February 29th, 2004, US Fish and Wildlife officers visited about 20 falconers in Colorado. They claimed to be searching for falconers illegally selling goshawks to Arab states. (As goshawks could not survive for ten hours in a Middle Eastern desert, and Arabs have never before expressed an interest in goshawks, this was later changed to 'wild peregrine falcons.') The tactics used by the officers are questionable. Two apprentice falconers (falconers in training) had their computers confiscated because the officers claimed it was illegal that water pans were not constantly available to their hawks. (It is not.)

One of the falconers raided was Becky Brunotte. Even though she had a serious case of the flu, USFWS officers questioned her for 6 hours about paperwork, birds in her possession, and things the officers claimed other falconers had said about Becky and her husband. It got to the point where she was getting Stockholm syndrome.

At the end of the interrogation, the officers confiscated Becky's northern goshawk, Poja. Poja was legally acquired from a nest by another licensed falconer at Becky's request. This man, who wanted to keep private the location of the tree, did not want her to be present. He delivered Poja to her less than 1 hour after take. Becky sent in a federal form, the “Acquisition and Disposition Report” (form 3-186A), indicating that she had obtained a young goshawk from the wild. The other falconer did not fill out any paperwork. This is not an uncommon practice, and Becky was unaware at the time that there was anything wrong with it.

According to the officers visiting Becky on February 29th, this was illegal. They said the other falconer should have filled out a 3-186A form indicating he had obtained a wild bird, then filled out a second 3-186A indicating he had transferred the bird to Becky, and Becky should have filled out her 3-186A indicating that she had received Poja from the falconer. Three forms instead of one, simply for having the bird in his possession for less than one hour.

However, this fine point is not actually addressed in the falconry regulations. There is nothing that specifies the above procedure is the correct one. Upon acquiring a bird, falconers have five days in which to file an acquisition report. That's all the regs say.

Becky is strongly attached to Poja. While in her care he got infected with West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne illness. This is quite often fatal to birds, but Becky acted quickly and was able to save his life. However, the illness changed his personality for the worse, and Becky put a deep emotional investment into re-training and making up for lost time. The confiscation has certainly destroyed anything that Poja once was. If released to the wild, likely as not he will simply die.

After Poja was confiscated, Becky was given the phone number of the facility where the officers allegedly brought the hawk. However, her phone inquiries there were stalled: the facility would not even verify that Poja was there. Over the past year, her requests for information were refused and information would not be released because either a) it was an ongoing investigation or b) covered under the US Patriot Act (because of the alleged Arab connection).

In most minor hunting violations (and the paperwork issue certainly qualifies as minor), people get a ticket, they go to court and pay a fine.

Today, Becky was informed that USFWS is revoking her falconry license and Poja will not be returned.

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