- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

Federal wildlife officials suspect that Alexandria residents, fed up with crows in their neighborhoods, are illegally killing the animals and some protected migratory birds as well.
Last month, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials began using poison to thin a massive roost of 4,500 crows. Two hawks turned up dead last week in two Alexandria neighborhoods several miles apart. Officials said that they did not treat either area with bait, and that the toxicant they use is not harmful to scavengers such as hawks.
"It appears that someone was taking matters into their own hands," said Martin Lowney, Virginia state director for the USDA wildlife services program. "Birds die, but when you find two hawks, bells go off, and you know something isn't right."
Tests are under way to determine what killed the hawks, though officials said such tests often are inconclusive.
Killing a migratory bird carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine of $5,000 per animal. If poison is used, a suspect can be charged with violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and face up to a year in jail and a $25,000 fine.
However, the most likely charge would come under the Virginia Pesticide Control Act, officials said, which carries a maximum civil penalty of a $20,000 fine.
"If people were aware they face such stiff penalties, I think they would be much more reluctant to take this sort of thing into their own hands," said Mary Phelan, who heads the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.
The USDA began setting out poison bait last month in response to complaints from residents who live near a series of crow roosts in the area of Route 7 and Interstate 395. A buildup of excrement from the birds can cause respiratory problems in humans as well as damage to vehicles, according to wildlife experts.
Instead of using pyrotechnics and other nonlethal methods to remove the crows, the USDA decided on the poison DRC-1339, saying it would be less disruptive to the area. The poison, contained in corn, poses no threat to humans or house pets, officials said.
The initial round of baiting resulted in the deaths of 1,500 to 2,000 birds, according to wildlife officials. The officials said they returned to the area last week because many of the crows that survived were beginning to stray into neighboring Arlington County in search of new homes.
Officials expect the latest round of baiting will eliminate at least 1,300 more birds. Animal rights activists say the crows should not be targeted just because their habitat has been overrun by development.
"Do we mindlessly slaughter them or find nonlethal methods to deal with it?" asked Mary Zoeter, president of the Alexandria-based Action for Animals Network. "We have to work out a way to coexist peacefully whenever possible."
Mr. Lowney said not everyone is upset, noting that word of the USDA's effort has prompted residents of 26 Northern Virginia neighborhoods to call his office in search of similar assistance. As a result, officials have located five crow roosts each with 2,000 to 6,000 birds in addition to the seven they already knew about.
"I underestimated how much discontent there was over crows and how many problems there were," Mr. Lowney said.

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