Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Unintended consequences of State Agriculture Department's "No Bird Display" edict

The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s ban on all live bird exhibitions is a net casted much broader than the agency ever imagined.

Included – maybe, or maybe not – are educational programs featuring captive wild birds by properly licensed individuals, organizations and such agencies as Lake Metroparks, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and others.

Announced Tuesday, June 2, the Agricultural Department’s ban is intended to curb the threat of an avian flu outbreak that would threaten Ohio’s $2.3 billion poultry industry.

Consequently, the Agriculture Department took the unprecedented step of banning all public and private “exhibitions” of birds of all kinds.

This massive coverage was designed to prohibit displaying chiefly live poultry at the Ohio State Fair and the state’s various county fairs. Included, too, are farm-related auctions that often feature the selling of such various domesticated birds as ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys.

However, so broad is the ruling that those wildlife rehabilitators who have birds that cannot be returned to the wild are maybe, possibly, likely, also included in the “no exhibition” ban.

Already captured is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife.

Scott Zody - the Wildlife Division's chief says his agency will not be able to exhibit is cache of captive wild birds at the up-coming Ohio State Fair because of the Agriculture Department's ruling.

“It’s a complicated question and is one that we’re trying to wrap our heads around,” said Agriculture Department spokeswoman Erica Hawkins.

More than anything else, Hawkins says, is the need to minimize potential exposure to the avian flu virus to Ohio’s poultry-raising industry.

Hawkins says 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, Hawkins says.

Thus the need to protect Ohio’s flock of domesticated fowl. All of which is highlighted by the fact that since late 2014 more than 44 million birds at more than 197 locations have been infected, Hawkins also says.

Even so, while the Agriculture Department’s sweeping “no exhibition” edict was initially designed to address the matter of show-and-sell county fairs, swap meets, animal auctions and such, it’s the rule’s unintended consequences that leaves the agency unsure as to how broad to interpret its own edict.

“What we are concerned with is the moving of (domesticated) birds where a whole bunch of people take them to a fair, sell them with the birds then going all over the place,” Hawkins says. “That’s why we are concerned.”

Even so, Hawkins admits, the Agriculture Department was taken aback; not even considering the ruling’s possible impact on wildlife rehabilitators who care for birds that cannot be returned to the wild but are used in educational outreach programming.

Left unsure, too, is if the Agriculture Department’s rule impacts those individuals licensed as falconers and whether they can move about the state with their hawks and other birds of prey.

For now, then, while the use of captive birds by licensed rehabilitators for educational outreach programming beyond their permanent residences is not prohibited neither is it encouraged, Hawkins says.

“I can live with that,” Hawkins said.

Lake Metroparks says it is waiting to hear officially from the Agriculture Department for direction.

. “We’re at the Agriculture Department’s mercy,” said Tom Adair, Lake Metroparks’ parks services’ director.

This story will be updated as further rule clarification becomes available.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Jeff 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.

1 comment:

  1. Too bad ODA refuses to put on their big boy pants and pass a similar self-righteous edict for deer farms which have shown time and again that they propagate disease which ultimately ends up in the wild herd in addition to the local flora and soil. Money talks and political appointees listen.