- - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The osprey is a noble bird of prey that not so long ago was headed toward extinction. Ospreys are making a comeback under federal protection. Killing one is a federal and usually a state crime, punishable by stiff fines and a long stay in prison. In Maryland, however, harassing ospreys has become something of a sport for certain state officials.

Near Annapolis, an osprey found a pole with a commanding view of the Chesapeake Bay and the abundant fish on which to feed. The bird, happy with his good fortune, made the pole its home, angering the officious at the Maryland Transportation Authority. The bird, which probably has only one use for forms but does not live in a birdcage, after all, had apparently failed to apply for a permit. The osprey further offended a traffic camera — the kind that broadcasts traffic conditions, not the sort that generates revenue — and pecked at the machine when it moved.

Birdwatchers flocked to the state website to watch, live, as the “sea hawk” constructed its nest, one stick at a time. Instead of taking advantage of the unplanned opportunity for an educational experience, state employees mounted a ladder and trashed the nest, an outrageous home invasion. Undaunted, the determined osprey returned the next day and rebuilt its nest from scratch. Again, the state stubbornly retaliated.

But yesterday, four bans later, the state of Maryland conceded defeat, and built a separate but equal platform under the camera, where a nest would not interfere with important state business.

It’s not clear that this is OK with the osprey. At press time, it had not returned to the pole, perhaps on the scout for even better digs. The showdown with the osprey is similar, but not exact, with the federal Bureau of Land Management’s duel with Cliven Bundy over grazing his cows on federal rangeland, near Nevada’s border with Arizona. The feds said the cows were disturbing the desert tortoise.

Rather than consider the possibility of peaceful coexistence between bovine and turtle, the Bureau of Land Management deployed teams of snipers with rifles to intimidate the hundreds who had gathered to witness the spectacle.

The best resolution of the osprey standoff would be for Maryland bureaucrats to set aside their egos and realize that a traffic camera is not so important. The osprey cam would attract far more viewers than the images of snarled Bay Bridge traffic. But bureaucrats are bureaucrats, and bureaucrats, federal or state, all think alike. They insist that anyone and anything, animal, vegetable or mineral, that gets in the way of a government scheme, no matter how trivial, must give way. Like nearly everyone else, we’ve been rooting for the osprey.

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