No Birdies on the Golf Course

Posted by ardeidae on April 17, 2006

This morning I received an email from Shelley Pierce, a freelance writer in Bozeman, Montana. She wanted to share an article she had written about a very disturbing incident in Florida. Stories like this need to be known.

A peaceful day golfing in Florida brought humans face to face with two Red Shouldered Hawks defending their nesting area. In Orange County Florida, this past week brought human-wildlife conflict to a head that left the two hawks dead and federal wildlife agents in turmoil over how the issue was handled.

After more than a dozen human attacks, the red shouldered hawks were killed by shotgun blasts Wednesday morning at the Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort. The resort had contacted the local office of USDA Wildlife Division and asked officials to aid them in removing the birds. The conflict ended with the hawks being shot and the local USDA Wildlife officials being questioned by an angry public and numerous animal rights agencies as to why this decision was made.

Bernice Constantin, State Director for USDA Wildlife Services in Gainesville has been investigating the event and voiced regret at the incident. “Our agency maintains a primary goal in these cases. Protecting and ensuring human safety is our top priority. The hawks were killed due to their violent attacks upon the locals. I was in contact with the agents in our office and allowed the biologists to make a determination based upon our issued permits. The understanding of all that the permits allowed for us to do became the basis for some misunderstanding. We believed that a separate permit was needed for relocating the hawks or for other measures of control. Our error in interpreting the wording on these permits is now a primary focus for this office and I am doing my best to move forward in educating all agents to better understand permit regulations and allowances. However, I stand behind the primary goal of our agents….human safety first.”

Red Shouldered Hawks and other wildlife have been suffering loss of habitat due to the massive expansion in this area of Florida where conflicts with humans have been steadily increasing. During the breeding and nesting season, some birds of prey can become very defensive of their nesting grounds and are sometimes driven to attack humans. However, animal protection groups are outraged at the decisions made to shoot the nesting hawks. Hawk Watch International, Audubon and other national agencies are all demanding accountability on the part of Constanin’s office. Many have voiced questions regarding why other measures of control for these hawks in Florida was not attempted prior to shooting them. The result of the actions taken by wildlife agents in Florida will have long reaching consequences to a nation wide concern of how best to deal with such circumstances in the future. Human-wildlife conflicts are escalating due to the human occupation of once open, wild lands that allowed for species progression without human interference.

Bernice Constantin also stated, “My office will be contacting our State USDA Representatives to request in-depth training for all officials responsible for managing these conflicts. Hopefully, our future conferences will offer detailed classes exploring the full scope of these permitting rules. Our agents need to completely understand all their options before they confront similar situations involving these conflicts between humans and wildlife. However, I firmly believe in this case, the human safety issue demanded our immediate attention and that was how the agents from our office proceeded.”

Further debate will be required from all sides of this issue. Wildlife habitat is being consumed at an alarming rate world wide. Conflicts between humans and wildlife will continue, requiring cooperation between federal, state and local agencies. The environmental and animal rights organizations demand attention be paid also to the needs of the wildlife involved. This is a point of conflict requiring good communication and cooperation on all parts in order to find solutions.

This whole thing is quite disconcerting. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website, “APHIS provides leadership in ensuring the health and care of animals and plants.” APHIS’s handling of this resulted in a situation completely contrary to their message. Feel free to email them and suggest improvements to their policies. It is we who are encroaching on the territory of wildlife, and it’s up to us to find the best solutions for cohabitation. What happened on that golf course was not one of them.





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