The US Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments on a draft environmental assessment for the taking of passage peregrine falcons (fledged juveniles on their first migration) for falconry. The comment period closes on 11 February, so there is still time to put your two cents in if you care to.
The issue is important to American falconers, although maybe less urgent to those my age and younger who have never had an opportunity to trap and fly wild peregrines. That opportunity skipped my generation, but there are many still in the sport who remember what fine birds these passage falcons can be.
My friend Jim Ince remembers them fondly, having flown the birds (decades ago, and usually briefly) at snipe and ducks across his native southeast Texas prairie. Jim says the passagers quicken the pace of a hunt, training fast and flying eagerly, and arriving already so competent at their game one has to work quick to serve them or else watch them speed away on their own pursuits.
You don’t make a passage peregrine wait, he says.
American falconers have been waiting for the passage peregrine since the days of DDT and the bird’s near disappearance. The story of the falcon’s return is widely known and cited. But it is also equivocal in its particulars and in the attributions of blame or credit given. Depending on whom you ask, some peregrines were never in danger; others say whole populations went extinct. Who’s to thank for the recovery? Everyone—the Service, the Congress, the falconers, the States, hundreds of biologists and thousands of concerned citizens.
Or maybe they would have recovered on their own.
The high note is that peregrines are back and almost common now. They’re retaking old hunting grounds continent-wide and kicking prairie falcons out of their squatter’s claims. I see them every year here in Baton Rouge, not just on passage in October but all winter along the levees and over my own hunting fields. One of them dumped a half-eaten coot in the middle of a local cow pasture last month, like manna from Heaven to my Harris hawk.
The North American Falconers Association represents the lion’s half of the country’s falconers. NAFA published its position (broadly supportive, of course, but with many specifics) and distributed that to its members. I am one. So are Steve and several others I know who visit this blog. My statement to the Service is less specific than my club’s position; it’s maybe a little bit lazy, even anti-intellectual. Certainly unscientific.
My feeling is that of course falconers will want access to as many peregrines as possible—the resource supports, by the Service’s own figures, many more to be harvested than the Service proposes to allow. On the other hand, I think it’s equally obvious that on principle or because of fear of (actually, the certainty of) lawsuits from various NGOs, the Service will not support so broad a harvest as the resource can sustain.
So it will come to a compromise, which I think is OK. I predict we’ll see a limited, highly regulated take of passage peregrine falcons for falconry. I’ll be glad for that. So that’s what I said:
Dear Chief of Migratory Birds and Associated FWS Staff:
Many thanks to you and to all those who’ve worked hard to bring the prospect of a migrant peregrine take to the table. You have done so without the falconer’s passion (though some among you were and are falconers) but rather on the strength of the best scientific understanding, and for this reason your effort is more sound and more worthwhile.
I support the sustainable harvest of passage peregrine falcons—from all populations available to US falconers—by way of a regulated permitting system for qualified applicants.
I have been a licensed US falconer for more than 20 years and have never flown a peregrine. For me, the bird has always been an icon of a past age and a vague dream of the future. Although I am unlikely to fly a peregrine (passage or otherwise) in the near term, several excellent falconers I know would love such an opportunity and would certainly make the most of it. It would be right and good for them to have that opportunity so long as the peregrine remains in sufficient numbers to allow it.
In short, I believe that all raptor species of sufficient population strength to sustain the (very gentle) harvest pressure applied by falconers should be available for take. In large, falconry is a wholesome and positive activity, one in which I am proud to partake and will be proud to teach to my children.
Your work on behalf of my sport and our (everyone’s) shared resource is much appreciated. I leave the specifics of the passage peregrine harvest and its regulation to those better qualified to comment. Suffice it to say that it has my enthusiastic
Send your official comment to: FalconryDEA@fws.gov, then post a copy here!