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Hunters given reprieve on bringing birds home from Canada

The USDA will allow fully cleaned birds, with one wing attached, to be imported.

lab retrieving duck
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday said it would back off its ban of all wild birds imported form Canada and allow fully dressed, fully cleaned wild birds to be imported, if one feathered wing is attached.
Steve Kuchera / 2019 file / Duluth News Tribune
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. hunters who venture to Canada to hunt wild birds will now be able to bring some home, but only if they are fully cleaned, gutted, washed, and have a fully feathered wing attached.

The new rule was announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture after the federal agency created an uproar earlier this month by refusing to allow any hunter-harvested birds to be imported from Canada because of avian influenza concerns.

Under the new restrictions, unprocessed hunter-harvested wild game bird carcasses, originating from or transiting Canada, must meet the following conditions:

  • Viscera, head, neck, feet, skin and one wing have been removed
  • Feathers have been removed, with the exception of one wing, as required by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for species identification
  • Carcasses must be rinsed in fresh, clean, potable water prior to packaging, and must not have visible evidence of contamination with dirt, blood or feces
  • Carcasses must be imported in leak-proof plastic packaging and stored in a leak-proof cooler or container during transport and import
  • Carcasses must be chilled or frozen during transport and import

The Department of Agriculture originally said it would ban the import of wild birds only from avian flu hot spots in Canada, but then reversed that ruling Sept. 2 and said no birds from anywhere in Canada would be allowed back.

The new requirements are considerably more burdensome than historic import rules, which allowed fully intact or partially intact, even undressed birds, to be imported as long as their species and gender could be identified, such as with a feathered wing attached.

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Officials for the conservation group Ducks Unlimited said they lobbied federal officials to make the change.

“We appreciate USDA’s willingness to hear the concerns from DU and revise this rule in a practical and scientific manner,” Adam Putnam, Ducks Unlimited CEO, said in a statement Monday. “This revision is not only a win for American waterfowlers, but also for the application of sound science. Now, waterfowlers … have clear guidance on how to limit the spread of HPAI and bring their harvested game birds back into the U.S. safely.”

Critics say it made no sense to ban the import of hunter-harvested wild birds because the same birds would simply fly south into the U.S during migration, with no way to stop them. It’s also unlikely that a dead bird in a hunter’s bag would ever get near a U.S. poultry operation, the primary concern of the agriculture department. Meanwhile, new cases of avian influenza have greatly decreased since spring.

Over the past week, Ducks Unlimited said the group's scientists held several discussions with USDA APHIS, making the case that there’s little evidence the ban would work to slow the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the U.S.

“We certainly understand and appreciate the importance of limiting the spread of” avian influenza in the U.S., said Ducks Unlimited senior waterfowl scientist Mike Brasher. “But based on data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service, U.S. hunters and their harvested birds imported from Canada pose relatively minimal risks in this regard.”

In 2015, during a previous outbreak of avian influenza, the Department of Agriculture simply dropped any extra import rules as hunting season approach.

For more information, go to https://bit.ly/3QDjJD3.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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