The Humane Society of the United States applauds the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources for voting unanimously on Wednesday to strengthen penalties for killing birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This legislation will crack down on people who intentionally kill peregrine falcons, Cooper's hawks, red-tailed hawks and other federally protected birds.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act Penalty and Enforcement Act of 2009 (H.R. 2062) was introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., in April 2009. The bill would give federal prosecutors the option of pursuing higher-level penalties for maliciously killing or wounding protected birds.

In recent years there have been horrifying examples of malicious cruelty to protected birds, such as "roller pigeon clubs" killing birds of prey through shooting, poisoning and even baiting raptors with pigeons rigged with fishing hooks, and cockfighters using baited, steel-jawed leghold traps to prevent raptors from preying on game fowl. Since the penalty for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is currently only a class B misdemeanor, this legislation would finally provide a meaningful deterrent of prison time and hefty fines.

"Like the horrific practice of dogfighting and the subsequent congressional response, it is time that Congress act to give the federal government expanded authority to prosecute and punish the most egregious and horrific violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects raptors and birds of prey like the peregrine falcon," said Rep. DeFazio. "To date, even the most outrageous violations have resulted in nothing more than slaps on the wrist."

"The Migratory Bird Treaty Penalty and Enforcement Act would provide a much-needed upgrade to one of the nation's most important conservation laws," said Michael Markarian, chief operating officer for the HSUS. "By passing Rep. DeFazio's important conservation and anti-crime legislation, Congress can make sure the law has teeth."

The HSUS thanks Rep. DeFazio and Chairman Nick Rahall for their leadership and asks the full House to pass the bill quickly.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization—backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, the HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs.

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