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Editorial: public outrage following euthanasia of ospreys is warranted. I’m outraged and heartbroken too.

In an inexplicable act of cruelness, the federal government euthanized two juvenile ospreys in Calvert County Monday and while officials have offered statements that attempt to explain why it was done, many people remain outraged – I am one of them.

Calvert County officials have released multiple statements in the wake of two juvenile ospreys being euthanized because of maintenance to ball park lights at Cove Point Park in Lusby – this after the county itself “requested assistance” from the arm of a federal agency that often kills wildlife.

The first of these statements reads, “Calvert County requested assistance with removal of an osprey nest from a light pole from USDA APHIS-WS, as the location of the nest posed a risk to the health and safety of people, including youth, using the ball fields at Cove Point Park.”

What risk to humans does an osprey nest on a light pole pose?

A branch/stick might fall on or near a human, but I’m not entirely sure this has ever happened.

It’s also possible during a high wind storm, such as a hurricane or tornado, that a nest could be blown down and a human could be hit with many sticks/branch or maybe even a juvenile osprey.

Normally, humans aren’t using ball fields during high wind storms, such as hurricanes or tornados.

Even during the tornado that hit Edgewater in 2020, the one that took out the South Riverkeeper’s boat, the osprey nest at the base of the South River Bridge remained perfectly fine – the ospreys had likely already migrated south.

Calvert County’s statement continued, “USDA Wildlife Services determined that nest relocation was not possible. Newer light poles being installed include osprey nesting platforms to more safely accommodate the presence of ospreys at county parks. These platforms have already been installed at Dunkirk District Park, Hallowing Point Park and Cove Point Park and are in use by osprey at these locations.”

Cove Point Park in Lusby. Calvert County photo.

Following receipt of this statement, Calvert County was asked, “The next question that everyone will ask is why couldn’t this wait until the juvenile ospreys fledged?”

No reply was received.

The reason no reply was received was likely because no one has a good answer. There is no rational answer – the light maintenance could’ve waited.

Ospreys migrate to Maryland and other points north in early spring to mate, have young and raise them before moving back to southern areas in the late summer, early fall.

While in Maryland, ospreys construct their nests and do constant maintenance on them, mate, sit on eggs and finally, if the eggs hatch, they feed their chicks until the birds are old enough to fledge. This is a laborious process that only happens once a year.

Calvert County officials admitted they “requested assistance with removal of an osprey nest from a light pole from USDA APHIS-WS.”

But what due diligence did the county do before requesting assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services?

According to its website, “The mission of USDA APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) is to provide Federal leadership and expertise to resolve wildlife conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.”

A large part of resolving “wildlife conflicts” means eradicating wildlife and the APHIIS Wildlife Services is given that authorization by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – even with migratory birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

According to a release from Center for Biological Diversity and using data directly from APHIS, ” The arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture known as Wildlife Services killed approximately 1.2 million native animals in 2019, according to new data released by the program this week.”

The release states, “According to the latest report, the federal program last year intentionally killed 301 gray wolves; 61,882 adult coyotes, plus an unknown number of coyote pups in 251 destroyed dens; 364,734 red-winged blackbirds; 393 black bears; 300 mountain lions; 777 bobcats; 124 river otters plus 489 killed “unintentionally”; 2,447 foxes, plus an unknown number of red fox pups in 94 dens; and 24,543 beavers.”

The release continues, “According to the new data, the wildlife-killing program unintentionally killed more than 2,624 animals in 2019, including bears, bobcats, mountain lions, a wolf, foxes, muskrats, otters, porcupines, raccoons and turtles. Its killing of non-target birds included ducks, eagles, swallows, herons and turkeys.”

Yes, it is illegal for everyone else to kill these birds, but it’s okay for APHIS Wildlife Services to do it and as in this case, they did it without input from wildlife rehabilitation facilities that would have been able to keep the ospreys until they were ready to fledge or renest them at another location with another set of parents (this is done regularly with success).

Information about APHIS Wildlife Services is easily accessible on the internet. In other words, it’s not a secret what APHIS Wildlife Services does or how they do it.

I don’t want to give the impression that APHIS Wildlife Services only kills wildlife.

This interview with APHIS Wildlife Services personnel, which was done in August of last year is about the invention of a device, which reduces the number of collisions between vehicle and deer, was done in August 2020.

Calvert County released another statement, this one to the public, following outrage over the euthanasia of the juvenile ospreys. The blame was put on USDA APHIS Wildlife Services or as stated, “Calvert County Government was not consulted or informed as to why or how the decision was made to euthanize the juveniles in the nest rather than relocate.”

In other words, Calvert County requested help and had an agreement with the arm of a federal agency that often kills wildlife, while still maintaining “the presence of the nest could endanger visitors.”

Cathy Lemp, of Rockville, was outraged over the euthanizing of the ospreys.

She sent sent an email to Calvert County Administrator Mark Willis stating, “I volunteer with a raptor rehabilitator in Montgomery County that would have been happy to help ensure these ospreys fledged successfully, and there is simply no excuse for this sort of wanton destruction of our precious wildlife. I urge you to prevent anything like this from happening again.”

Willis replied, “While I appreciate your personal opinion, it was wrongly directed.  However, as the County Administrator, I will take responsibility to ensure the federal agency that conducted this action is consulted.  This type of maintenance has occurred in the past and in those cases, the raptors were placed in proper care until release.  We had no reason to believe this would not be the case here.  Like you, I believe in protecting all wildlife.”

The email thread continued back and forth, with Lemp apologizing to Willis and he replied to her.

“No apologies necessary … I love the passion.  Please know that we have already pushed back on the USDA folks to follow our county’s “no kill” desires.  While I realize there may be a time when an animal may require euthanasian (1.), this was clearly not one of them.  We have raptor experts on staff that could and will in the future manage situations of this nature…until such time as a more humane solution is found.

1.       The painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.

Keep up the fight and know that I and the Board of County Commissioners support correcting this situation.”

Mark Willis

Calvert County Administrator

With these statements, Calvert County is creating more questions than answers, as is the revelation that they have “raptor experts.”

Was there any due diligence done by Calvert County about what APHIS Wildlife Services does? About osprey behavior or when they fledge? Or even a call placed to their “raptor experts?”

I’ve seen mention, though I don’t know for sure, that the nest has been on this light pole for years.

But let’s say this was just a recent decision by Calvert County. The birds begin to nest in spring. If maintenance is needed do it before or after nesting season – it’s as simple as that.

Why, with less than a few weeks, from when these birds would’ve fledged, couldn’t this work wait?

The bottom line here – don’t hire a hit man if you don’t want someone killed (don’t hire a hit man period – it’s illegal).

Chris Beasley, of Calvert County, sent an email to APHIS Wildlife Services with several questions. He forwarded me the response received from David S. Reinhold, wildlife biologist and director, operational support.

“Thank you for contacting Wildlife Services (WS) and for your concern about the osprey nest and the immature birds removed from Cove Point Park earlier this week.  WS provides federal leadership and expertise to resolve conflicts to allow people and wildlife to coexist.  The WS program uses an integrated approach to solving conflicts, such as those associated with osprey, and considers a wide range of lethal and non-lethal methods. We respect your concerns and appreciate the opportunity to respond.     

At the request of Calvert County Parks (CCP), a WS biologist removed an osprey nest with immature birds located on a light fixture at CCP’s Cove Point Park in Lusby, MD.  The County requested the removal due to human health and safety and property maintenance concerns. WS removed the nest and euthanized two immature birds under the authority of a depredation permit issued to Wildlife Services by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  WS estimated the immature birds to be 30-days of age and not close to fledging. 

WS works closely with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the US Fish and Wildlife Services to ensure sound management decisions.  Osprey population recovery has been a conservation success in this region. Once nearly extirpated before the 1970s due to use of certain pesticides, the Chesapeake Bay area is now home to more than 2,000 nesting pairs.  As trained and dedicated wildlife management professionals, WS carefully considers the decision to remove individual birds and lethal removal is done with consideration for the population of the species as a whole.  

WS appreciates the outpouring of offers to assist with rehabilitation and/or transport to a rehabilitator.  WS has a history of working successfully with rehabilitation programs and will partner with third party entities with permitted authority, as appropriate, to handle migratory birds in future projects.”

David S. Reinhold

wildlife biologist and director, operational support.

In other words, APHIS Wildlife Services rationale was because there’s enough ospreys right now, we can kill the babies after the osprey parents successfully made the trip from their winter homes (possibly as far away as South America) to Maryland, then readied their nest, then successfully mated, then successfully laid eggs, then successfully incubated the eggs, then successfully saw the chicks hatch, then successfully raised their chicks – just short of fledging.

They just saw no need to contact a wildlife rehabilitator who have ability to renest/relocate juvenile ospreys.

Make no mistake, this was cruel and completely unnecessary.

With all the outrage, many have asked who to contact that might be able to help prevent it from happening again.

An email from a reader asks, “Why don’t you put any links in your article so people can complain? The tone of the article was obviously one of derision so why not give out the contact info of all the people that participated so other people can voice the contempt.”

I appreciate the question and the desire to know who to direct your questions and complaints to about the euthanasia of the two ospreys.

In a news story, the job of a journalist is to present the facts and I did that with the article that brought this story to light. I can’t tell you that you should complain – that would be biased and we’re supposed to be unbiased.

In an editorial, we can share opinions. This is an editorial.

As for my opinion, I’m outraged, horrified and so very heartbroken this happened. This warrants people letting their elected representatives and bird-related conservation organizations know how you feel.

That said, I don’t have the time to look up contact information for all of these people and nonprofits. In addition to being a journalist, I’m a busy mom and a bird of prey rescuer. I do this stuff every day. During osprey fledging season (which it is), it’s been nonstop busy and on top of that, there’s a neurological issue impacting hawks – I’ve been rescuing those too.

This morning (Friday), I’ve just returned from two, juvenile osprey rescues.

Waterlogged juvenile osprey I rescued recently in Crownsville

But since people want to know who to reach out to, elected officials at the federal and county levels, as well as bird-related conservation organizations, would my best suggestions. This is not a state issue.

At the local level, the Calvert County Administrator seems to be responsive to emails.

At the federal level, this would be those serving in Congress. You can look up who these are here.

Two government agencies were directly involved – Calvert County and USDA APHIS Wildlife Services.

The USFWS gives authority to APHIS Wildlife Service to do what they do.

An email I sent to USFWS states, “A lot of people, including me, would like to know what part, if any, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service played in this decision? If USFWS was aware of it, why couldn’t this wait two weeks for the birds to fledge? And if USFWS wasn’t consulted, will there be any action now?”

This will be updated if a response is received. I’m told one is forthcoming.

Update – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided the following:

“Here are the responses to your questions from our Migratory Birds program:

Q. What part, if any, did the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service play in this decision? 

R. Beyond issuing an annual depredation permit to MD USDA Wildlife Services, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not play a direct role in this decision. 

Q. If USFWS wasn’t consulted, are you planning any follow-up action? 

R. We are working closely with USDA and evaluating the situation to address any potential issues.”  

Donna L. Cole is a award-winning investigative and multimedia reporter who works for WNAV News. She’s also a volunteer bird of prey rescuer.