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Published:February 28th, 2007 11:37 EST

Migratory Birds for Military Readiness

By SOP newswire

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule allowing the Armed Forces to "take" migratory birds in the course of military readiness activities, as directed by the 2003 National Defense Authorization Act. The final rule published in today's edition of the Federal Register.

"Protecting our nation and its natural resources is of utmost importance to all Americans," said Service Director H. Dale Hall. "The Departments of the Interior and Defense have worked closely together on this rule to ensure the proper management of migratory birds, while giving the military the ability to conduct critical training for our men and women in uniform."

The measure directs the Armed Forces to assess the effects of military readiness activities on migratory birds, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. It also requires the Armed Forces to develop and implement appropriate conservation measures if a proposed action may have a significant adverse effect on a migratory bird population. The rule also provides that when conservation measures require monitoring of migratory bird populations, the Armed Forces retain the data for five years.

"The Department of Defense strives every day to protect the natural resources under its stewardship," said Alex A. Beehler, Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health. "This Rule, developed by the Fish and Wildlife Service in close collaboration with the Department of Defense, successfully accommodates the military's need to test and train and the Service's responsibilities to protect migratory birds."

Following a U.S. District Court decision restricting live fire military training, Congress enacted the 2003 National Defense Authorization Act, which authorized an interim period during which the prohibitions on "take" of migratory birds occurring as the incidental result of training would not apply to military readiness activities. Congress also directed the Secretary of the Interior to prescribe regulations for the Armed Forces for the incidental taking of migratory birds during readiness activities. The regulations have the concurrence of the Secretary of Defense.

On June 2, 2004, the Service published a proposed rule in the Federal Register for a 60-day public comment period. After analyzing comments received, the Service extended the rule's applicability to the incidental take of all migratory birds, not just migratory bird "species of concern" as identified in the proposed rule. Under this change, the Armed Forces must confer and cooperate with the Service to develop and implement appropriate conservation measures when the Armed Forces determine that a proposed military readiness activity may result in a "significant adverse effect on a population of migratory bird species."

The Secretary of the Interior is required to suspend an Armed Forces authorization if the Armed Forces activity is not in compliance with any of the migratory bird treaties, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act implements international conventions signed with Canada, Japan, Mexico and Russia and directs the Service to ensure the conservation and perpetuation of migratory bird populations. Among other provisions of the Act, no one may take, kill, or attempt to kill a protected species unless otherwise permitted for scientific, educational, cultural, and other special purposes. Migratory birds include all species covered by the four migratory bird treaties with Canada, Mexico, Japan and the Russian Federation. In the event the Secretary of the Interior proposes to withdraw authorization, the process for resolving any subsequent objections from the Secretary of Defense was also clarified in the final rule.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 547 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.