By Ken Dixon, published in The Connecticut Post on April 28, 2006

Lawmakers still hope to save monk parakeets from eradication

HARTFORD – With less than a week remaining in the legislative session, a bill that would spare southwestern Connecticut’s monk parakeet population from capture and death is languishing in the General Assembly.
It has been ready for House action since April 18 but could get lost in the flurry of late-session wrangling as the Legislature speeds toward its midnight adjournment next Wednesday.

At the start of the 12-week budget-adjustment session in February, the bill was a legislative priority of Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the Environment Committee.

Roy was reacting to the local, state and regional uproar over The United Illuminating Co.’s surprise autumn monk parakeet eradication program, in which 179 birds were captured in 103 nests on utility poles in West Haven, Milford, Stratford and Bridgeport. They then were put to death by U.S. Department of Agriculture crews.

Roy said Thursday that he still wants the bill to succeed, but a proposed Republican amendment on Sunday hunting has been attached that could stir contentious debate. “I’ll have to speak with the speaker and the guys in screening and find out where we can go with it,” Roy said of the majority leaders, who review pending bills and approve them for floor debate.

Roy said the General Assembly as a whole “has a lower priority on it than I do,” so he has to promote it in the waning days.

“I think the Sunday-hunting issue will certainly slow down the bill,” Roy said. “I don’t know how much support or opposition there is to it. Certainly, there is a contingent here that would like it to pass.”

Last week, the Senate approved a bill that would allow Sunday bowhunting for deer on private property along the coast and throughout Fairfield County.

But Speaker of the House James A. Amann, D-Milford, said he doubted it would be debated in the House because of opposition in the 99-member majority. The hunting amendment was put on several pieces of pending legislation in an attempt to keep the issue alive in the House, Rep. Kevin DelGobbo, R-Naugatuck, one of the sponsors, said Thursday.

It remains to be seen whether House majority leaders would rule that the Sunday hunting measure is closely related to the parrot bill, which is included in legislation dealing with euthanizing rogue dogs.

Amann said Thursday that he supports the parrot-protection bill, which would overturn 2003 legislation that classified the gregarious, nest-building birds as invasive. Amann said there’s still time to approve the legislation and get it to the Senate.

Rep. Mary M. Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, co-chairwoman of the Environment Committee in 2003, said the state Department of Environmental Protection, which promoted the 2003 legislation, misrepresented its effects.

“They never said anything about exterminating the birds,” Mushinsky recalled. Mushinsky said she will join Roy in getting the bill to a floor vote.

Priscilla Feral, president of the Darien-based Friends of Animals Inc., which has a lawsuit pending against UI over the parrot issue, said she is discouraged and disgusted with the legislative process. “It’s an outrage that Sunday hunting is tacked on to a parrot bill,” Feral said.

UI spokesman Albert Carbone said the utility opposes the bill because it doesn’t allow “the flexibility” if UI were to again to seek to dismantle the stick nests that some parrot colonies have built in utility poles.

Milan G. Bull, director of science and conservation for Connecticut Audubon Society, said the organization does not have a position on the legislation. “Could we do with fewer monk parakeets?” Bull said. “Yes.”