Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Great Horned Owls On Their Way to Protection in Minnesota

As strange as it sounds, Great Horned Owls are on the "unprotected birds" list in Minnesota, right along with House Sparrows, European Starlings, and pigeons. But they are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. So they are protected, but it does create confusion.

The first I knew of this issue was when I applied for permits to get Alice in 1998. The federal permit office informed me no state permit would be needed. This seemed weird, since you always need an accompanying state permit to keep raptors, or for salvaging dead birds, etc. So I called the state permit office. They confirmed that Great Horned Owls are the only raptor in Minnesota specifically exempted from the law.

At the time I though it was not right, but hey, one less permit for me to deal with. I didn't really give the issue another thought until a few years later.

In 2001 the Houston Nature Center was being constructed. This brought out the vocal minority opposed to the nature center, who until that point had nothing really to say on the matter. There were public meetings and things got kind of ugly. But by then Alice was already the symbol of the nature center. The opposition took it out on her to some degree.

People started talking about "shooting that owl." This certainly upset me, but I figured it was just a way for some people to blow off some steam on the subject. It went too far, though, when some kids were overheard at their daycare pretending to shoot "that owl" and make "owl soup." It's one thing for adults to talk big, but when it affects kids who don't know any better, that's crossing the line.

So I called my local state conservation officer and explained the situation. He told me that he had no jurisdiction on the matter since Great Horned Owls are specifically exempted from state law. That's when it hit me. Something needed to be done.

In the meantime, our local police officer had a chat with the adults that had been talking about shooting the owl and making owl soup in front of the kids later overheard at their daycare. I think it made them think twice about what they were saying and who they were saying it in front of.

I didn't really know how to go about getting a law like that changed, and had no idea how hard it would be. I basically worked on collecting information: the actual state and federal statutes themselves, and doing research about the level of protection for Great Horned Owls in other states.

Then one day while visiting my former advisor at Luther College, my advisor pointed out one of his current students who's father was in the Minnesota Legislature. Apparently he had recently received an award for his environmental work. Finally a connection--his daughter had the same college advisor as I had!

So I looked up Representative Ray Cox and sent him the information I had gathered. I didn't hear anything, but I didn't really have my hopes up.

Then several months later, when I was talking to someone at the federal permit office about another permit, the woman mentioned that I may in the future need a state permit for Alice. I asked why, and she replied that a state representative had been inquiring about the matter with state and federal officials to get their take on the issue. It was Ray Cox!

Last session wasn't the appropriate time for him to introduce such a bill, but I'm proud to say that on January 24, 2005 he introduced HR0419, a bill that would remove Great Horned Owls from the unprotected birds list. It's counterpart was introduced into the Senate (SF0628) on January 31.

Representative Cox said the bill should come to a vote in the next months, and he doesn't anticipate any problems with it's passage. Although it's too soon to celebrate, I'm one happy camper, and I'll be the first in line to get my state permit for a Great Horned Owl.

No comments:

Post a Comment