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Dokken: USDA misses the mark with last-minute ban on game birds from Canada

The timing of the ban is especially unfortunate because waterfowl seasons in some Canadian provinces opened Sept. 1, and many American hunters had scheduled trips to Canada to hunt ducks, geese and sandhill cranes – migratory birds with no regard for borders.

2096739+102515.O.GFH_.FALLROUNDUP-Mixed bag of waterfowl.jpg
Would these birds from a North Dakota waterfowl hunt be more dangerous if they came from Canada? Apparently so, based on the recent last-minute decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to ban the import of wild game birds from Canada this fall as part of measures to mitigate the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. Never mind, of course, the fact that migratory game birds now in Canada will soon be passing through the U.S. anyway.
Contributed/Jon Falch
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – Wow, talk about sneaky.

And silly.

Those two words could sum up the recent, last-minute decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to ban the import of wild game birds from Canada this fall.

News of the decision – an about-face from an announcement in late August that game bird imports would only be banned from certain regions of Canada – came down in a news release APHIS posted on its website shortly before 5:30 p.m. CDT on Friday, Sept. 2.

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That pretty much guaranteed no one would see the notice, as I’m guessing traffic on the APHIS website isn’t exactly heavy on the Friday of a holiday weekend. Even more “convenient,” most media outlets that might pay attention to such news likely had closed up shop for the day – and the long weekend.

Really, APHIS? Couldn’t you have done better than that?

Apparently not.

The ban, of course, results from the outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza that has ravaged domestic poultry flocks and wild birds the past several months on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. The timing of the ban is especially unfortunate, though, because waterfowl seasons in some Canadian provinces opened Sept. 1, and many American hunters had scheduled trips to Canada to hunt ducks, geese and sandhill cranes – migratory birds with no regard for borders or the ban that now will prevent hunters from returning home with legally taken game birds.

These are the same ducks, geese and sandhill cranes, of course, that will soon be flying south from Canada to any number of destinations in the U.S.

READ MORE OUTDOORS ISSUES COVERAGE:

I first heard of the news late Sunday afternoon from an avid hunter of ducks and geese who is planning a trip later this month to the Quill Lakes area of southeastern Saskatchewan. Upon hearing the news, he started making calls to see what options, if any, he and his hunting partners might have for utilizing the birds they shoot in Saskatchewan.

It took some doing, but he was able to find a food pantry in the Quill Lakes area that will take the birds they shoot.

“(I) spent a lot of time making calls to come up with what I did,” he told me in a subsequent text message.

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In explaining its rationale for the ban, APHIS, in its holiday weekend news release, said it has a zoning agreement with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency “to reduce the movement restrictions for trade in poultry and poultry products. However, these zones do not apply to wildlife.

“Hunter-harvested unprocessed wild game bird meat/carcasses originating from or transiting Canada, will not be permitted to enter the United States regardless of the Canadian province from which the bird was harvested. APHIS is aware of the impact this will have on hunting seasons and will provide updates if new information is received.”

Not surprisingly, groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl were quick to condemn the ban. Both conservation groups issued letters to APHIS administrator Kevin Shea protesting the policy change and requesting the agency reconsider the decision.

“Hunters are left to wonder why APHIS would reverse course on such a consequential decision, announced after hours on a holiday weekend, with zero notice or opportunity to be heard from stakeholders,” Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam said in a statement. “DU members are justifiably upset by the absence of science and the total lack of transparency around this sweeping regulation that does not appear to have even included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in its development.”

John Devney, chief policy officer for Delta Waterfowl, called the regulation and its timing “extremely troubling.”

“APHIS assured us just days ago that import would only be restricted on birds taken in Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza priority control zones,” Devney said in a statement. “Who knows how many U.S. hunters have headed to Canadian hunting camps believing they would be able to bring the birds they harvest back into the States by following the normal transport regulations that were in place when they left? Now they are going to be totally blindsided when they get back to the border.”

As colleague John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune reported in a story posted Monday, Sept. 5, a similar situation occurred during the last avian influenza outbreak in 2015. In response, several members of Congress, including former Minnesota 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat, stepped in and convinced USDA to drop the ban on game bird imports from Canada.

Hopefully, that happens this time around, as well.

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And soon.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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