Wednesday, July 17, 2013

New York tries to protect the Heath Hen

The Massachusetts, with its Bird Law of 1818 was not the first American state attempting to protect certain species of birds. New York had been trying to preserve the heath hen and other game birds for over a century by that point.

The first law in New York pertaining to game birds dates back to colonial days. In 1708, an act "for the more Effectuall preservation of Deer and other Game and ye Destruction of Wolves Wild Catts and other Vermin" announced an open season for Turkeys, Heath hens, Partridges or Quails from August 1 to April 1, with fines for anyone killing or destroying the birds, their  eggs, or their young ones during the close season. The law applied only to Suffolk, Queens, and Kings County (i.e., New York City and Long Island).

On February 15, 1791, after two years of consideration, a revised "act for the preservation of Heath Hens and other game," was approved shortening the open season for heath hens, partridges and quail (now October 2 to March 31) and adding protection for woodcocks from February 20 to July 1.

On April 21, 1818, there was yet another revision. This time the closed season for heath hens ran from the first day of January to the first Wednesday in October. Partridge and quail were protected from January 5 to September 25, and woodcock from February 1 to July 1. More importantly, while the fines for unlawful shooting of other game birds ran from 50 cents to a dollar a bird, the fine for heath hens was a weighty $25.

Clearly this law did not ultimately save the heath hen, which was soon extirpated in New York (and then briefly reintroduced and extirpated again). "The Sixth Annual Report of the Conservation Commission," published in Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York (1917) has this to say: "Every statement of law...was ineffective, since laws amount to nothing unless they are rigidly enforced. ..."

Of particular interest then, is a resolution by an organization calling itself "Brush Club" reported in the August 26, 1805 edition of the Evening Post.
Notwithstanding the proper and salutary provisions of the ... Act, certain persons have been in the practice of disregarding it and it is feared [illegible] to disregard it, by which means it has become a dead letter, and there is reason to apprehend that that valuable species of bird called the Heath Hen or Grouse will in a short time become extinct.
And whereas [club members] think it necessary that prosecutions should be instigated against all such persons as may commit any breaches of the said act, during the present season, and that the prosecutor or prosecutors should be indemnified for their trouble and experience in pursuing the same to conviction....
The members of the Brush Club resolved to reward prosecutors for every bird killed and prosecuted for, and to report the convictions in at least three New York City newspapers. Sadly, the efforts of the Brush Club were insufficient to finally save the bird.

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