By Charley Shaw, Session Daily
Seeing an owl perched in a tree during a stroll through the woods is a thrill for an avid birder.
This winter has brought much excitement in northern Minnesota with record numbers of snowy owls swooping down from Canada. But some bird lovers think some photographers go too far when they lure the birds with food for a close up.
During testimony Tuesday in the House Ways and Means Committee, Department of Natural Resources officials said some photographers place mice in aquariums to draw the owls near.
Rep. Thomas Huntley, D-Duluth, who lives in a region that provides snowy owls with ideal hunting grounds for their prey, said the practice poses traffic safety issues when done close to a road.
“I think it’s fine to take pictures of snowy owls. They’re phenomenally beautiful and they’re large,” Huntley said in an interview. “But at the same time you have to make sure you’re not endangering the birds.”
Huntley’s city is home to Hawk Ridge, where raptors of all sorts fly across as they round the western end of Lake Superior.
The committee accepted Huntley’s amendment to the omnibus game and fish bill, which would make luring and feeding owls a petty misdemeanor. The committee approved the bill and sent it to the full House.
The bill would apply to people who “purposefully attract a wild owl” in an attempt to cause it to move from one place to another. People conducting research under a state or federal permit would be exempt. People who rescue an ill or injured owl would also be in the clear.
There likely will be changes to the owl language, however, before it’s done migrating through the House. Huntley said the bill might be changed to limit luring to safe places rather than banning it altogether.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, raised concerns during the hearing that people who attempt to feed another animal through legal means may get penalized if an owl turns up.
“I don’t think you can say intentionally just snowy owl,” McNamara said. “You could be putting the rodent there to lure in a coyote.”
In support of the bill, Rodmen Smith, assistant director of the DNR’s enforcement division, said the legislation is specific to owls and conservation officers will be able to detect when people are violating the law.
“It’s going to be fairly tough to say a mouse in an aquarium is trying to lure a coyote,” Smith said.
Rep. David Dill, D-Crane Lake, the sponsor of the game and fish bill, said a compromise amendment could be offered on the House floor.
Shaw writes for the nonpartisan Session Daily (www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily) in the Minnesota House Public Information Office.