NAFA Call to Action

An APHIS Regulation Update which NAFA has been dealing with is included below. If you're not a NAFA member, and you are a licensed falconer, exhibiter, educator or rehabber, it's of critical importance that you keep up to date with these developments - and please comment! Your input is of critical importance.

You can snail mail comments, which provides greater weight, to:

Docket No. APHIS-2020- 0068

Regulatory Analysis and Development

PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8

4700 River Road Unit 118

Riverdale, MD 20737-1238

Background

As you know, NAFA established a task force to deal with the size and complexity of the USDA APHIS proposal. The task force includes recreational and professional falconers, breeders, and educators. One our first actions was to develop a detailed survey for the members to get concrete information on how this regulation would impact the falconry community. I am very pleased to say that we received almost 650 responses. To all you took the time to answer the survey I say THANK YOU! Your answers provided critical information for the development of a strong, credible response to the overreach in this proposal.

In addition to the survey, the task force has been reaching out to veterinarians, political contacts, attorneys, and other user groups. NAFA’s comment is roughly 7 pages and has gone through several reviews…almost there! Once it is complete, I will share it on the NAFA website.

To summarize the main issues: The proposal covers those who exhibit birds and breeders who supply them, or breed “pet” birds. It contains detailed provisions for facilities, food preparation, temperature/humidity, water, and travel. Among the most troubling aspects of the proposal is the regular, extensive, and excessive reliance on the “attending veterinarian” to inspect, review and signoff of facilities (including “enrichment”), diet, health and in some cases, even the movement of the birds. In addition, an itinerary must be filed with APHIS for every overnight trip with one or more birds. The proposal includes some size limits. Operations which fall below these limits will be exempt from the regulations. However, the limits are far too low in our opinion, especially given the controls and requirements we already operate under.

So why does all this matter? Falconry birds are for hunting. They are not pets under the Animal Welfare Act. The regulations will only apply to exhibitors/educators and breeders that sell birds to them. You may be thinking “What’s the big deal?” Let me answer… 

First, falconer-based education work generates a lot of good will for falconry, Second, based on our survey, many breeders sell at least some birds for education. If breeding becomes too complex or costly all of us will suffer. Finally, and most importantly, this regulation is part of a very dangerous trend. When the AWA was passed in 1966 only “pet” dogs were covered, not hunting dogs. The Act has been amended several times since then, every time with expanded and tightened control. In 1976 a few simple words concerning dogs were added, “including those used for hunting, security or breeding”. All it would take is a similar amendment for birds a few years from now, and falconers will feel the full weight of this onerous, PETA-sponsored regulation. Falconry will be changed forever. We need to push back on this now. Hard!

Call to Action 

One of the most critical next steps is for every NAFA member to make a comment to this proposal! All of us have relevant information, experience, and observations, so please comment. Comments can be made online on the Federal Register before May 25. Your comment will be made public and may generate some follow-up comments from animal rights activists. Irritating as this is, do not let this deter you. Your rational, fact-based comment matters. 

Here is some general guidance on key points to include:

  1. Emphasize that falconry birds are not pets under the AWA or any other rational definition. Existing federal and state falconry regulations preclude the keeping of raptors by individuals as pets. Therefore, no attempt should be made to impose these regulations on falconers or propagators breeding falconry birds.
  2. Existing USFWS regulations are modeled on well-established falconry traditions and standards. Aspiring falconers must first pass a written examination before entering a 2-year apprenticeship under the tutelage of an experienced, licensed falconer. A falconer’s facilities and equipment must be inspected by a state agent before a license is granted. In addition, USFWS regulations require propagation and education permit-holders to demonstrate suitable prior experience with raptors. In this context, the proposal’s excessive reliance on veterinarian oversight and the requirement to use veterinarians for simple procedures is unnecessary and counterproductive. Most falconers are more qualified to make housing and equipment decisions than most veterinarians. 
  3. The stated intention is to develop “performance-based” regulations. However, the proposal is in fact, highly prescriptive and overly detailed in many areas. It is not performance based.

If you breed or exhibit birds, you may also wish to touch on these additional aspects:

  1. The proposed regulations are duplicative to standards required by existing USFWS permits held by every raptor breeder/exhibitor and the cost of those duplicative regulations far outweigh the benefit and violate Executive Orders 12866 and 13563. Requirements spelled out in USFWS Regulations 21.85(c)(2)(iii) (propagation) are and have been sufficient requirements for meeting AWA intent. There is nothing to be gained from these regulations for regard to raptors used for falconry or propagation.
  2. The proposed de minimus thresholds for exemption are arbitrary and inappropriate for raptor breeding and raptor education. NAFA recommends that de minimus thresholds for the number of breeding females raptors be raised from 4 to 12, the number held for education/exhibition should be raised from 8 to 24.
  3. Most breeders are focused on producing falconry birds, but some breeders sell a percentage of their annual production for exhibition use. We recommend the establishment of a new threshold for the number of offspring sold to exhibitors/educators by a licensed breeder. This threshold should be 24 birds.

Finally, well-known raptor-specialist veterinarians have indicated their belief that “...most practitioners, including the Board-Certified Avian Veterinarians, are inadequately trained, or experienced in the handling of raptors to the degree expressed in these regulations”. If you are a veterinarian, please contact me or VP Heath Garner, as your supporting comment will be particularly important. 

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