Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lake Metroparks takes unilateral action to help prevent avian flu outbreak

After the Ohio Department of Agriculture has failed to respond to its inquiries Lake Metroparks has acted unilaterally in how it will exhibit its dozen permanent resident raptors.

This, as a result of an Agriculture Department edict issued June 2nd. This ruling calls for restricting the display of birds in an effort to help contain any threat from the nearly always fatal avian flu to Ohio’s expansive poultry industry.

Ohio ranks second in the nation for chicken egg production. The state also is home to 28 million laying hens, 12 million broilers, 8.5 million poults (young chickens), as well as two million turkeys.

This substantial farm-related industry is worth $2.3 billion and employs more than 14,600 people, the state Agriculture Department has said.

Agricultural interests and related government bodies have much to fear from the viral avian flu. Since December 2014, the country has experienced avian flu outbreaks in more than 21 states.
These cases run the gamut from farm-raised poultry to wild birds, large commercial farms to backyard breeders, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Though little risk exists for humans, the disease has shown a propensity to morph, the World Health Organization says as well.
And as a result, it is possible – granted, still remote - for the disease to make the leap from birds to man, WHO says.

Thus from Ohio’s widely popular county fairs to the Ohio State Fair - as well as livestock auctions, poultry contests and the like - the no-show order will go on.

However, far less certain are the educational activities of individuals, organizations and governmental agencies which employ captive birds which for one reason or another cannot be returned to the wild.

This soft spot in the Agriculture Department’s umbrella ruling has led to confusion regarding how a licensed animal rehabilitator can display resident/captive birds for educational purposes.

For the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife its interpretation means the agency will not put on display its cache of wild birds at the up-coming Ohio State Fair, July 29 to August 9, says Scott Zody, the Wildlife Division’s chief.

And although Lake Metroparks had reached out to the Ohio Department of Agriculture for clarification the state has yet to respond, says a Lake Metroparks official.

Consequently, Lake Metroparks has taken the bull by the horns - or in this case - the hawk by the talons.

“The Ohio Department of Agriculture still has not returned our call,” said Tom Adair, Lake Metroparks’ director of park planning. “As we wait, we have decided that we will not risk the health of the birds in our care so we will only transport and display non-avian species at the Ohio State Fair and county fairs this year.”

Adair said also that Lake Metroparks maintains 12 permanent resident raptors which are – and which will continue to be - on display at the agency’s Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center, located within the parks system’s 424-acre Penitentiary Glen Reservation in Kirtland.

On the 12 birds that Lake Metroparks holds in licensed trust, seven are used for travel programs, which number at around 200 annually, Adair said as well.

“We are doing this proactively and we anticipate that the ban should not impact us beyond our programming at fairs,” Adair said.

“Most of these programs won’t be affected by this ban; really, only those programs which could bring our birds into contact with other wild birds or domesticated birds at various agricultural sites such as the Ohio State Fair and county fairs,” Adair said.

Visitors to the Wildlife Center can still view for free Lake Metroparks’ 25 so-named “wildlife ambassadors,” including all 12 avian raptors. Hours for the Wildlife Center are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily.

A similar inquiry has been presented to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History as to how that institution is reacting to the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s June 2nd order.

Like Lake Metroparks, the Natural History Museum also is licensed to permanently care for wildlife that cannot be returned to the wild and exhibits these creatures for educational purposes.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

 Jeff Frischkorn is the retired News-Herald reporter who covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 100 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.

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