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March 27, 2013

Acts to protect wildlife from both Avian Haven, Legislature

George Smith

It's heartwarming and heartbreaking. The 2012 annual report from Avian Haven, a wonderful team that cares for injured birds in Freedom, will bring forth every emotion.

The well-written report, which you can read at www.avianhaven.org, includes stunning photographs of the Haven's patients and captivating stories about specific birds.

Since 1999, Marc Payne and Diane Winn have cared for nearly 12,000 birds of 100 species. Their annual caseload has increased gradually from 300 birds to last year's record of 1,571, making this one of New England's largest rehabilitation facilities.

Avian Haven includes an indoor infirmary, incubators, hospital, recovery, and indoor and outdoor cages designed for specific species from hummingbirds to bald eagles. A volunteer rescue squad brings most of the orphaned or injured wild birds to the facility.

And this is where I come in. Linda and I were working in the garden last fall when I heard a woman's voice calling out to us from the woods. Wandering back there I found Shearon Murphy with a loon cradled under her arm. I wrote that loon's story here in my Oct. 31, 2012, column.

To make an agonizingly long story shorter, although the Avian Haven team did all it could, the loon eventually died after ingesting a lead sinker weighing 5/8ths of an ounce. This was one of those heartbreaking stories that occur far too often at Avian Haven. Four eagles died last year, all from lead poisoning.

To live in Maine is to love all of the wild creatures that live with us in this special place. Which brings me to a special place that you may not love, but that is also critically important to our way of life: the Maine Legislature.

This could be called the week of wildlife restoration and protection. On Monday, the Legislature's Marine Resources Committee considered three bills to restore alewives to the St. Croix River watershed, a perennial issue since alewives were blocked from that watershed in 1993 by legislative fiat. This is a very contentious issue. The restoration is long overdue.

On Tuesday, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee took testimony on a bill that would roll back a recent decision by the Fish and Wildlife Department to ban the use of live fish as bait on nine wild brook trout waters, to prevent the introduction of invasive species.

Maine's brook trout are a unique national treasure and deserve this protection.

On Thursday, that same committee will host a hearing on Maine Audubon's bill to ban the sale and use of lead sinkers weighing one ounce or less. Currently, Maine law prohibits only the sale (and not the use) of lead sinkers weighing a half-ounce or less. It was a lead sinker weighing 5/8ths of an ounce that killed the loon in my backyard. I will tell that loon's story at the hearing and urge the committee to support the bill.

We are fishing with toxic waste. It's time to get the lead out of our tackle boxes, our lakes and our loons. I can only hope that anglers will follow Audubon's lead on this one.

A bit of history might help. Maine outdoor writer Bob Humphrey told a story in a Maine Sunday Telegram column last Dec. 9 about the strong resistance of most of us to the federal ban on lead shot for migratory bird hunting implemented in 1976.

A report by Maine's DIF&W after that first year of using steel shot noted that, "Informal contact with hunters ... indicated that the 1976 regulation was little more than a nuisance and irritation ... without doubt there was much violation of what appeared to be a very unpopular, unnecessary, and unenforceable regulation."

Bob writes that several years later he saw "first-hand the necessity of the change. We found lead shot was abundant in soil samples taken from feeding areas, and in the gizzards of waterfowl found dead or dying months after the hunting season."

And he reports on how manufacturers since then have developed several non-toxic alternatives that are quite effective.

We already have effective alternatives to lead sinkers. Avian Haven's annual report demonstrates why we need to enact this ban. There's no need to delay this important step.

If you care about all of this, you will enjoy a presentation on northern saw-whet owl banding and other special projects by DIF&W's Judy Camuso at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta at 7 tonight. It may just whet your appetite for Thursday's hearing.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or georgesmithmaine@gmail.com. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.





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