Milford Rep Wants Parakeets Off Invasive List

Milford Rep Wants Parakeets Off Invasive List
By Ken Dixon, published in The Connecticut Post on February 11, 2006

HARTFORD — A co-chairman of the Environment Committee said Friday he will promote a bll that would take monk parakeets off the state’s invasive species list, in an effort to protect them from further eradication efforts.

Rep. Richard F. Roy, D-Milford,said protecting the gregarious birds will be a priority in the new legislative session, following the United Illluminating Co.’s November and December destruction of parrot nests on more than 100 utility poles.

“Essentially I want to protect them from extermination,” Roy said in an interview. “I think there area lot of people who enjoy the birds, as well as those who don’t care.”

At issue is a 2003 statute that listed the parakeets — believed to have settled in southwestern Connecticut about 35 years ago — as an invasive species. But an underlying law, on utilities applying to eradicate pests, also may need to be rewritten, he said.

“The key is for UI to continually maintain the poles so the birds will learn to move elsewhere,” Roy said.

Priscilla Feral, president of the Darien-based Friends of Animals Inc., said Friday she was glad to hear of Roy’s commitment, which came after the utility captured 179 birds from 103 nests in West Haven, Milford, Stratford and Bridgeport in a $125,000 program.

“We’re very pleased that they’re taking the statute change seriously,” Feral said. “What we heard last was that the politicians were wringing their hands and thought they were imposed on by a federal classification for these birds that we believe doesn’t exist.”

She said that DEP-backed eradication efforts can be traced back to the early 1970s.

“These birds were maligned,” Feral said. “It was wrong-headed and it happened and was influenced by a wildlife agency that was allowed to accommodate an electric company.”

A crew from the U.S. Department of Agriculture killed the birds in carbon-dioxide chambers as part of the eradication program, which ended amid public outcry and a lawsuit filed in state Superior Court.

Animal rights groups pointed out that similar monk parakeet colonies in New Jersey and New York have been treated humanely by utility companies there.

Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Friday that the department will cooperate with Roy and his committee, but it’s too early in the lawmaking process to take a position.

“This is an issue we’d be glad to discuss with the Legislature and we would need to assess the details of any proposed legislation before we could comment on the merits of any particular approach,” Schain said Friday.

Meanwhile, bird lovers have noticed some limited nesting activity in alternative nesting platforms erected in about a dozen locations along the coast.

But on West Haven’s Ocean Avenue, at least three stick nests on utility poles are being rebuilt by surviving members of the colonies that escaped UI’s capture.

Albert Carbone, spokesman for UI, said Friday that corporate lawyers on Thursday filed preliminary documents in the Friends of Animals’ pending suit seeking a permanent injunction to protect the birds, which number at least 1,000 in Connecticut.

“We’re monitoring the nests,” Carbone said. “There have been a few nests that are being rebuilt.”

He thinks the total number of nests in the process of rebuilt is about 15. Since July, 119 nests have been destroyed, Carbone said.

“We’re just monitorng them and pretty much seeing if they grow further,” Carbone said. “If customers call us and are concerned about them, our normal protocol is: if a customer calls, we’ll just knock down the nests.”

At the height of the eradication controversy last fall, Carbone told Roy, Speaker of the House James A. Amann, and other officials that the utility would agree to develop non-lethal alternatives to keep the nests out of the utility poles without killing the parrots.

“We’re not bird experts,” Carbone said. “We were worried about the nests being a threat to public health and safety. We want to work with the DEP and bird organizations and that’s what we’ve done.”

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