Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

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Cleaning up a mess

February 13, 2006

State Senator Hanna recently put forward a bill regarding the feeding of “wildlife” which made it through committee in the Colorado State Assembly. Collective eyebrows were raised among the local birding community when the initial introduced version of this bill included the following:

A BILL FOR AN ACT
CONCERNING HUMAN BEHAVIORS RELATED TO WILDLIFE IN URBAN AREAS.
Bill Summary
(Note: This summary applies to this bill as introduced and does
not necessarily reflect any amendments that may be subsequently
adopted.)
Punishes the offense of knowingly luring wildlife in urban areas with food or edible waste or allowing wildlife to establish housing on a person’s property by a fine of $100 for a chargeable first offense, $500 for a second offense, and $1,000 for a third or subsequent offense. Exempts the feeding of songbirds, acts related to agriculture, and acts allowed by wildlife commission rule.

So it’s OK to feed songbirds. Great! I wonder what they consider a “songbird” – this is the state legislature, after all. Section 1-4-c:

(c) “SONGBIRD” MEANS ANY SMALL, ARBOREAL BIRD THAT UTTERS A MELODIOUS SONG OR CALL OR WHOSE PRESENCE IS COMMONLY WELCOMED IN RESIDENTIAL AREAS.

Hmmm. Well, that’s almost a tautological definition. A bird that is “welcomed” is OK to feed, but perhaps not one that is not “welcomed”? In other words, you’re not allowed to feed birds that you don’t want around? Yeah, that sounds like useful legislation. And does songbird refer only to passerines? What about woodpeckers or doves? Are they not included?

Fortunately, this horribly written bill was greatly amended and clarified [UPDATE 2/13, 12:00pm: Jen Bolton, lobbyist for Colorado Audubon, apparently prevailed upon the bill authors to reword it], omitting the bulk of the confusion and replacing it essentially with this:

(1) UNLESS OTHERWISE PERMITTED BY COMMISSION RULE, IT IS UNLAWFUL FOR ANY PERSON TO PLACE FOOD OR EDIBLE WASTE IN THE OPEN WITH THE INTENT OF LURING A WILD COYOTE, FOX, RACCOON, OR SKUNK TO SUCH FOOD OR EDIBLE WASTE IN AN URBAN AREA.

Much better. No more mention of any birds, just specifically the four main offenders. This version apparently passed through committee on a 7-0 vote. Now, whether or not this actually solves the given problem, I can’t say, but at least it’s no longer so broadly and poorly constrained. Kudos to the legislature for cleaning up this messy bill, before attracting the ire of virtually every birder and birdwatcher in Colorado! (It’s been so long since I’ve actually praised any government body for doing something right, I’d almost forgotten how to do it.)

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Bird Morality

December 2, 2005

From bootstrap analysis:

Cowbirds have an undeserved poor reputation as being lazy or immoral. Of course, the attitude that birds, or any other animal, can or should follow human expectations of ethical or moral behavior is illogical and unreasonable.

Certainly true, although I hasten to add that a fair number of those concerned with the actions of nest parasites base that concern more on conservation issues. Nevertheless, it is not always easy for us to separate out that visceral response to witnessing what would be an atrocity in its human representation.

I don’t intend this to be a lengthy exploration of bird morality, but the topic is interesting. Curiously, though, this isn’t the case only with those who react negatively to cowbirds and other nest parasites, but also to certain groups in reaction to March of the Penguins. Roger Ebert:

The stupendous success of “March of the Penguins” this summer has led some political and religious agenda-promoting scalawags to paint weird and disturbing parallels between penguin behavior and human behavior, and to draw insupportable conclusions that do not exactly square with zoological reality.

He’s referring to media critics like Michael Medved and Maggie Gallagher. And let’s not even mention penguin homosexuality. OK, I change my mind, let’s:

Every day at Manhattan’s Central Park Zoo the two males entwine necks, vocalise to each other and have, er, sex. When offered female companionship, they decline.

Roy and Silo have even displayed urges to procreate, and once tried to hatch a rock. Finally their keeper, Rob Gramzay, gave them a fertile egg from another brood. Tango, their chick, was born later. The pair raised it lovingly. ‘They did a great job,’ admits Gramzay.

I believe there’s nothing wrong with finding character traits in birds that help us appreciate them more. As long as it remains clear that bird morality is not something we humans are privy to understand – in this we can only gaze from afar.

Back to cowbirds though. If it cannot definitely be shown that cowbird range expansion is causing population drops in host songbird species in these newly penetrated areas, then from a conservation perspective the cowbirds are cleared of their “responsibility”, and we can resume concern for decreasing populations of host species due to more direct human causes like habitat destruction and collisions with transmission towers, etc.