This article was previously published in Bird Breeder magazine and is reprinted here with permission of the author.
Overview of Historical Legislation Affecting Birds (originally published August 1998)
by Laurella Desborough
The Importance of Knowing Local Laws
Cities and counties are passing into law a variety of regulations aimed specifically at birds, or aimed at exotics, which includes birds. For instance, Bernalillo County in New Mexico has a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the ownership of an exotic bird or animal. San Antonio, Texas has an ordinance that prohibits the breeding of animals or birds within the city.
Many towns and cities have laws that restrict the ownership of all pets to three in total; i.e., one dog, one cat and one bird. San Mateo County in California requires a permit to allow the breeding of animals. Fresno County in California prohibits the breeding of any animals except food, hide or farm animals. There is an application process that requires hundreds of dollars up front, and the applicant may still be denied a permit to breed cats, dogs or birds. Counties in the east require permits for structures such as hog barns, where specifications must be met. Since they have no specs on bird barns, they require bird breeders to meet specs for hog barns. When pet pythons escape, local citizens pass "dangerous" animal legislation that, because of the wording, covers birds, too. Due to pressures from various groups with differing agendas, laws have been put in place that affect bird breeders and owners.
Georgia is presently considering a law that would ban the sale of unweaned baby parrots. This particular law seeks to address the negative consequences of the sale of unweaned babies to inexperienced persons. This law, like many others, has been introduced by individuals or organizations to solve a problem or police an activity that is creating problems. If and when members of the avicultural community take actions that result in inhumane, improper care or death of a bird, the results impact the entire community, such as this proposed law. A recently defeated California bill, AB 409, would give the Department of Fish and Game the power to place any bird or animal on the restricted (prohibited) list. The regulations would require that scientific proof be offered that would show that the bird would not pose a threat to human health, native wildlife or agriculture, before it would be allowed to be owned. The bill has been defeated but may be reintroduced at a later date.
Update On California AB 409
The latest work on this bill is that it is dead for this legislative session. We can't be sure until August 31. Even if it is dead for now, the issue is not dead. Legislative analysts predict that the matter will be addressed in the next session by those who want to place restrictions and prohibitions on the ownership or transport of everything from cats and dogs to ferrets and parrots. In order to ensure legislative success, plans are now being formed to create a strong network of concerned persons willing to take action. California bird owners, bird breeders, retailers, and any associated commerical businesses should become a part of this network. For further information please contact: Martin Muschinske in Southern California at email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Barry Wold at email: email@example.com in Northern California. Our legislative advisors recommend the following: When restrictive state legislation is proposed, only residents of that state should contact legislators. Legislators are angered and turned against our concerns when they receive input from out-of-state persons. Instead, contact your friends in that state and have them contact the legislators. This will help the cause.
This is indicative of a new focus on the element of non-native species and the potential threats posed by those species. On the basis of a potential or perceived threat, laws are being promulgated at state levels. We can expect to see more restrictive legislation proposed concerning birds and other pets.
What can be done? It is clear that doing nothing is not the answer. To maintain our freedom to keep and breed birds, we must be pro-active. Follow these guidelines to be prepared.
Keep informed. Know what proposals are on the agenda at your county board of supervisors and city council. When a proposal says "animal," read that as "bird," because "animal" generally includes everything.
Prepare for and attend hearings on any ordinances that deal with birds and animals. Speak out, write letters and network with interested others.
Assume nothing, check everything. People may say: "Oh, they'll never enforce that law!" Don't believe it. They will enforce it, probably on a complaint-driven basis. Educate yourself about the proper city and county meeting protocols and follow them. Dress neatly and in business attire. You will be given more credibility. Always be polite. You are there to educate your representatives and bring them to your side of the issue, not make enemies of them through belligerence or rudeness.
Work! Contact people; communicate about the problem. Work in teams to solve it. Meet with your elected representatives. If you can't defeat the proposals outright, seek amendments that will protect the interests of aviculturists. Keep in mind that restrictive or prohibitive regulations on birds affect all of us, no matter where we live or where the regulations are in place. Our clients and potential clients live everywhere. When we protect their interests, we protect our own.
In the early to late 1980s, great numbers of wild birds were being imported into the United States, Europe and other countries from South America, Africa and Indonesia. These birds were destined primarily for the pet market, although some went to zoos and some to bird breeders. Why did this happen during this time? It happened because it was possible. Wild birds are captured in accessible areas, such as the grasslands or savannas of Africa. One can drive out to the location, set up nets, collect the birds and drive them to the airports. Where impenetrable rain forest exists, roads are needed. Roads were constructed into rain forests to reach mineral deposits and to remove timber or turn the jungle into cattle ranches and plantations. These roads made it possible for trappers to reach areas where they could capture wild birds and then transport them out of the remote areas by boat or vehicle to airports. The majority of imported birds were collected as a byproduct of the much greater goal of land development in forests around the world.
One result of the importation of non-native birds was the establishment of many anti-wildlife-trade organizations, such as the Environmental Investigation Agency. This group actively worked to pass the Wild Bird Conservation Act in the U.S. and presently promotes anti-trade doctrines at the meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.). Other groups believe that birds should not be in cages and work to restrict ownership of pet birds. There are many animal rights and animal welfare organizations working to prohibit or restrict ownership or mandate regulations on care and housing of animals/birds. Why? Birds are beautiful and charismatic; they evoke feelings in most people. Organizations are using these feelings to raise money for their goals. Working on issues around birds serves ideological beliefs and brings in donations.
The Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA) of 1992
The main purpose of this national law was to conserve birds in the wild. Most wild parrot species are prohibited from being imported into the U.S. by the WBCA. Actually, there are not many countries still exporting their wild birds. Those that do are still shipping to Europe, Japan and the Far East. Although the WBCA was designed to prohibit importation of wild birds into the U.S., it has had the effect of prohibiting the importation of domestic-raised birds, as well. Government officials cannot find a way to distinguish between domestic-raised and wild-caught. Therefore, all birds are assumed to be wild-caught. Under the WBCA, cooperative breeding programs may be establishedówith proper paperwork and approved status. These programs allow for the importation of limited numbers of wild-caught birds for special breeding programs.
The WBCA and the publicity related to the bird trade and smuggling have had a general effect on aviculture in the U.S. in the following three ways:
Bird breeders recognize that they must produce their own future breeding stock (or acquire through trades/sales) because they cannot replenish breeders from imported birds.
The general public has had a large dose of serious misinformation and negative publicity about the keeping of birds.
The animal rights organizations have turned their attention to local and state laws and regulations since a national law is in place.