Conservancy Fights to Keep Its Predator Birds

FAIRFAX, Va. (CN) – With its president recovering from major surgery, a Virginia bird conservancy has called on a judge to keep the state from removing its feathered friends.

The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia says it has been in business for 19 years, rehabilitating injured, ill or orphaned birds of prey, releasing those that it can back into the wild, and keeping those it cannot for educational purposes.

It brought its suit on April 4, in Fairfax County Circuit Court, a day after receiving a distressing voicemail from Randy Francis, the wildlife permits coordinator for the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Though Francis is not a party to the complaint, the conservancy says he has been on its back for the past month about the supposed misuse of permits.

When Francis first emailed conservancy president Kent Knowles about this issue on March 3, however, the conservancy says Knowles was unable to meet with Francis as requested over the next 30 days because he was undergoing major surgery.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries declined to comment on the lawsuit except to say that the conservancy is under investigation for wildlife exhibitor permit violations.

Knowles was going under the knife on March 17, according to the complaint, when the conservancy’s outside counsel called Francis to work out any administrative paperwork issues.

Abbreviating its name as RCV, the conservancy says Francis refused to work with it to address the perceived deficiencies and said he was suspended the conservancy’s permits.

Knowles had to be in the hospital for 10 days after his surgery, and he is still recovering at an in-patient rehabilitation facility, the complaint says.

On March 23, Francis allegedly directed the conservancy to place the 33 birds it was rehabilitating at the time with another wildlife group in Boyce.

Though Francis billed that center as having “the appropriate permits, skilled staff and space for the affected birds,” the conservancy says the center euthanized four of the birds immediately, and has plans to euthanize another nine.

There were 10 other birds that the center released as soon as it got them, according to the complaint. The remaining seven birds’ fate is uncertain.

The conservancy says it still has exhibition birds and birds that it breeds for falconry. Francis allegedly told the conservancy on April 3 that he would pick up these remaining birds the next morning.

Saying it has no assurance that these birds will not be euthanized like the ones removed last month, the conservancy wants an injunction.

“There is no public interest in euthanizing these birds,” the complaint states. “On the other hand, the public has an interest in the RCV maintaining these birds. RCV has used the educational birds and falconry birds … to educate the public about birds of prey and preservation of their habitat, including through presentations for local schools, scout functions, community events and other groups and by presenting information about the value of predators like these birds of prey in the balance of nature.”

The conservancy is represented by Patrick McDermott of Hunton and Williams in Washington. McDermott declined to comment on Thursday.

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