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Bird culling powers could be extended to public

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Kevin Monkman

A tabled amendment to the Bird Protection Act could extend the power to destroy “pest” birds to any member of the public who is authorised by the Environment Minister.

And a separate amendment to the Firearms Act would also pave the way for certain candidates to then apply, through the Police, for a firearms licence to carry out the deed.

Currently only four conservation officers are entitled to a firearms licence to destroy pest animals. Environment Minister Jeanne Atherden would consult with conservation officers in her ministry before authorising anyone.

The Ministry said that there are strict vetting procedures under the Firearms Act and that licences would not be given without extreme caution.

Former Government conservation officer David Wingate, who used to be the only conservation officer on the Island authorised to use a firearm for conservation purposes, said he wasn’t too concerned over any danger posed by members of the public gaining firearms licences.

“There is always a danger in shooting guns in public because we are such a crowded island now and so every effort would be made to use any other method than that.

“But I can assure you they won’t be dishing guns out to just anyone. I know farmers who have been trying to get licences to shoot crows for years and they can’t even get through the first stage.”

Permanent secretary for the Ministry of Health, Seniors and Environment Kevin Monkman added: “The firearms portion will be even more strictly controlled than being involved in a culling of common species.

“The Police have to approve the person who is issued a licence for a firearm.

“We don’t want to have people pose any sort of risk to the public to do bird culling.

“We are very selective and we wouldn’t go to the Police to request one unless we were sure that the person who was going to be doing the shooting on our behalf is qualified both to identify the bird and to not endanger any other species or people through over shot, etc”

Mr Wingate, who consulted with Government over the amendments, said while he welcomed the amendments overall, he did have some concerns over room for error in bird identification.

He told The Royal Gazette: “Whoever does the authorisation needs to be absolutely sure that those who are authorised to shoot know about bird identification because some people are very good at it, some are hopeless at it. They may be very good shots but they will never be bird watchers and make errors in identification. I would like to be certain that anybody authorised is qualified to identify the bird or, if they are not, will take someone in the field with him who is qualified.”

He added: “This will not be an issue for 99 per cent of the cases that will arise because everyone knows a feral chicken and feral pigeon and I know the Ministry is extremely reluctant to dish them out so I am not too worried about that.”

Mr Monkman echoed Mr Wingate’s sentiments saying: “If we are going to be doing bird culling it is going to be of common species — pigeons, crows, chickens, those sorts of things, not species that are going to be easily misidentified with one we want to protect.”

The amendments must sit for two weeks before being read in the House of Assembly. An amended act would see feral pigeons and feral chickens added to the current list of pest birds; the common crow, starling, kiskadee and house sparrow. Penalties for obstructing a conservation officer or authorised person would also be increased from $200 to $2,000, another move welcomed by Mr Wingate.

“That brings it in line with similar penalties,” he said. “It solves a lot of snags. People were interfering with traps set to catch feral chicken for instance and releasing them and causing havoc when the qualified officers were trying to do their job. This clears up problems like that.”

Environment Minister Jeanne Atherden added: “We thought long and hard to come to the point of view that one, is it appropriate to go to this level and two, it is important to protect species and control species that are becoming a pest. We have also heard some real concerns about people getting ill — there are real health issues with pigeons getting on the roofs and affecting the water quality.”

File photo of a kiskadee