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Debate going on over forest hawk

By Jason Nark

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — On Jacks Mountain, where the trees showed hints of gold and orange, raptors took flight on an autumn afternoon, hitching a free ride on warm updrafts all along the ridge.

Mike Dupuy, a master in the sport of falconry, can see them, even miles away, from his front lawn. He knows them by their calls, their color, even the shape of their tail. Often it’s a fierce Cooper’s hawk on the prowl or the ubiquitous red-tailed hawk, a sturdy SUV-like member of the raptor family. But the rare, gunmetal gray hawk with the reddish eyes perched on Dupuy’s arm — a northern goshawk — is his favorite, a fighter-jet of a bird capable of launching from his hand and turning a pigeon or chipmunk into a blur of feathers or fur in a second or two.

Few people ever see one.

“This is a wild bird,” he said. “This came from a nest in Pennsylvania.”

A reclusive forest dweller, the northern goshawk was moved from a threatened species list to endangered by the Pennsylvania Game Commission last month. That step will protect the species from human activity, such as logging, and enable researchers to study potential threats, including West Nile virus, logging, natural gas extraction, and predation from carnivores. The listing also will likely affect falconry, the ancient art of hunting with captive raptors.

Dupuy, who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, took the male northern goshawk when it was a chick in 2013 and he’s raised it ever since. It’s one of many hawks, falcons, and owls that he keeps at home. Now that the species is officially endangered in Pennsylvania, it’s unclear whether any of the state’s 200-plus licensed falconers like Dupuy would be allowed to take one to raise and fly. Dupuy, a self-professed rebel of the falconry world, was a dissenting voice on the Pennsylvania Goshawk Project’s subcommittee that’s studied goshawk numbers and nesting sites in the state for several years prior to the listing.

“I come from a long line of troublemakers,” he said at his home last month.

While the state and many researchers on the subcommittee believe goshawk numbers have been steadily decreasing for two decades, Dupuy believes the study was insufficient, too small for such a secretive bird. He believes the endangered listing was a foregone conclusion before any studies were even done. Dupuy said the subcommittee only researched a small fraction of Pennsylvania’s vast forests and didn’t use techniques that have been successful at gauging numbers in the past, such as polling turkey hunters who often come across nests.

“All of these people have vested interests in making a goshawk endangered,” he said. “They have a bias against falconers, but there’s no softer, more zen-like form of hunting.”

Dupuy’s income is centered on birds and falconry and he believes that irks birders, conservationists, and wildlife officials. He owns Mike Dupuy Hawk Food, which sells prepared foods, enclosures, perches, and other falconry equipment. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service charged Dupuy with violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act after he requested identification bands from the Pennsylvania Game Commission for three goshawks he captured. Authorities believed Dupuy captured the birds for breeding purposes, which he said he was legally permitted to do. He fought the charges and a federal judge found him not guilty after a one-day trial.

“They didn’t have to investigate me, I self-reported these birds,” he said. “I paid money to obtain a permit to do this.”

Margaret Brittingham, a professor of wildlife resources at Penn State who’s been collecting data on goshawks, said the endangered listing is not an attack on falconers. She noted that the goshawk is also on endangered lists in New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia and that listings, ideally, are not meant to be permanent.

“It’s not a forever list,” she said. “We can make progress. The peregrine falcon, the bald eagle, and the osprey have been delisted.”

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