Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Roller Scandal

Eight (so far) California roller pigeon fanciers have been targeted in a Federal sting operation and accused of killing as many as 2000 raptors, apparently mostly urban Cooper's hawks. Some of the info is pretty ugly:

"Navarro allegedly told an undercover Fish and Wildlife Service agent that he likes to "pummel" the hawks that he catches with a stick.

" "You'll see, it gets the frustration out," Navarro said, according to a Fish and Wildlife agent's affidavit."

But some of it is dubious:

""When you take out a predatory bird, you're taking out the upper end of the food chain," said Special Agent Lisa Nichols of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "It blows the balance of everything." "

Well, OK. But urban Coops mainly exist because of an oversupply of urban pigeons and doves adapted to the human- modified landscape (and if there were indeed 2000-- a figure I am skeptical about-- they were WAY out of "balance".

Then there is this:

"Roller pigeons are bred for a genetic quirk that strikes in mid-flight, causing a brief seizure that sends the birds spiraling uncontrollably toward the ground. Thousands of hobbyists compete to see who can best make their birds roll in unison."

Well, a moment's thought should tell the reader that something that can be performed "in unison" is not done "uncontrollably". As Pluvialis points out in a recent post, only birds bred too closely go out of control; in fact, rolling and tumbling seem to be actions enjoyed by the birds.

Unfortunately, as Rebecca reminds us, " that may as well be a dinner bell to a hawk".

Matt and I discussed the whole matter. I was blunt (a bit busy and preoccupied); Matt nuanced as usual. I said:

"Whole thing is crazy. The pigeoners shouldn't be killing hawks. The Fed shouldn't be doing elaborate stings. I doubt the 2000 figure. And urban Coops aren't endangered. Why not let falconers trap and move them?-- I do it all the time with adolescents and they don't come back!"


"I am often a little bit out of the mainstream on my views. If possible, I am even MORE paranoid than the average falconer, but my fears are for the big threats: The possibility that all private animal ownership be regulated in this country, if it is not eliminated altogether. There is a weird synchronicity between the government on one hand and the animal rights nuts on the other that serves the purpose of each. When these two get together, bad things happen for us and for everyone who likes to own and breed animals.

"In addition to falconry, I also run a sighthound at game. The coursing flap in CA last year was really troubling to me. Those dog guys were out of line and sloppy and short-sighted, no question about it. And the notion of a point system (as in formal coursing) is alien to me and I think is a dangerous component to add to any legitimate hunt.

"Nonetheless, running dogs at game is something I do, and so I took notice. As a falconer, the parallels are obvious also. Far better (in my view) that we should police ourselves and reach out to our own bad apples than to have the media, PETA or the state and federal government do our policing for us....

"Know what I mean?

"So please don't get me wrong regarding the pigeon guys. I agree with you that they are basically tossing hawk food as a hobby and should expect to take some losses! But given the choice between arguing over predator control strategies with a pigeon guy or arguing over animal ownership with a PETA rep., I'd rather talk to a Roller man."

Amen. For more intelligent discussion from both pigeon and hawk folks, see the comments in this post of Rebecca's, and the text in this one.


Anonymous said...

Isn't this situation similiar to the reintroduction of the wolf?

Rancher (pigeon owners) killing predators due to claimed losses.

In this age of "property rights",
is a class action against USFWS around the corner.

Will it become necessary, as it now occurs near Yellowstone,for a private group of nature lovers to compensate the roller owners for their losses?

Crazy world

Steve Bodio said...

With respect, not exactly. As a guarded supporter of wolf reintroduction, I still think that the government using tax dollars to put something on the land you use to make a living that kills very expensive livestock is a little different from compensating hobbyists for the depredations of a common raptor (and you know I fly pigeons too, so I am not unsympathetic).

I still think trapping and moving young Coops as I do (they get stuck in a loft roof vestibule and I am a falconer in an easygoing state, so it's a bit different though a gray area) is viable. But CA barely lets falconers trap!

I also think maybe this wolf deal is one instance where the Gov't should actually pay-- except then the ranchers would probably wait forever.

Anonymous said...

I was not totally serious as to my comment although you are never quite sure what will happen in California.
I was only trying to note the irony of the situation and the extent that the results from one problem can lead to rather crazy consequences when applied to subsequent events.

As to funding for wolves, legally (I always hesitate to reveal myself as an attorney)I understand why a private organizaton is funding the compensation.

Government Compensation for losses due to wildlife has been rejected by most jurisdictions with good reason. Funding under even the most justifiable circumstances
creates a slippery slope due to equal protection under law arguments.

Under the laws of Louisiana as well as most other jurisdictions,
the state owns all wildlife
and the state can not be sued (unless for political reasons, it chooses to allow itself to be be sued but lets not go there)
For example, the state need not compensate a farmer when wild deer eat his crops (a actual case I studied in Law School). Hungry rabbits and beaver dams have also resulted in unsuccessful litigation.

These problems and fears of future liability create the need in legal circles for a sort of "stone wall" approach as to such issues.

This attitude also complicated
the long standing private ownership of raptors by falconers controversy.

Finally, interesting but not quite on point, I once met an
administrative law judge at a legal function who hears civil actions against poachers and other game violators. She spends her days determining the value, and therefore amount of compensation due the state as owner, for game and non game wildlife illegally taken. She apparently has great latitude as to her valuations. When asked exactly how she does so,
she responded that, while she does not personally participate, she is originally from Mississippi and belongs to a hunting family. The conversation ended there so I'm still not sure what she meant.