On Sunday, a 20-year-old man and his two friends drove a Jeep Wagoneer up and down a beach on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington at speeds of 40-60 miles per hour. Over a period of three hours they repeatedly crashed through flocks of birds killing dozens. For more information on this story, follow this link.
The men have not yet been charged, but if past enforcement of bird related crimes is any indication, these men will escape with little more than a slap on the wrist. In theory they could be charged with fines of up to $15,000 per bird and six months in jail under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but prosecutors and courts have been very hesitant to provide severe penalties even for the most egregious bird related crimes. One of the reasons for this is that under federal law even the most egregious bird related crimes are a class b misdemeanors---by definition "minor infractions." We have watched time and time again while crimes like this one--deliberate, sadistic killing of protected birds--drew extensive press coverage and community outrage, only to have prosecutors and courts settle for a scolding, a bit of community service and perhaps a little fine.
This is why Portland Audubon is working with Congressman DeFazio to update the nearly century old Migratory Bird Treaty Act to treat the most egregious crimes as felonies. The bill is currently moving through congress and is headed for mark-up. Passage of the bill is no guarantee that prosecutors and courts will step-up and treat these crimes with the severity that they deserve. However, it would send a very strong message that congress wants these types of crimes taken more seriously and it would give prosecutors a powerful new tool to use when appropriate. Oregon took a big step in this direction last week, increasing fines associated with raptor related crimes and making second offenses felonies under state law. However, the crimes described above occurred in Washington and did not involve raptors ---we need to improve the federal protections as well so that all species of native birds receive adequate protection regardless of where they occur.
In the meantime, keep an eye on this case. Hopefully I will be proven wrong.