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Road Law
Dream catchers cause nightmares

By Jeff McConnell & James Mennella


You see them everywhere you go these days, but you’ve never given in to the temptation to buy one until now. During a brief stop in a New Mexico casino, you’re hit with the urge to buy the small “dreamcatcher” on the wall, the one with assorted colored beads and three feathers on it.

You hang your new treasure from your headliner, and off you go. When you get to the scale, the DOT officer notices the beautiful feathers on your dreamcatcher and casually asks you about it. Naturally, being proud of your purchase, you begin to tell the officer all about your new cab decoration.

Unfortunately, the officer confiscates your purchase and hands you a citation for violating the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act with potential penalties up to $5,000 and six months in jail. Your dreamcatcher just caught a nightmare.

Q: What is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

A: The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a compilation of treaties that the United States has signed with other countries, protecting birds that migrate across our borders. The Act makes it illegal to take, possess or sell any of the protected species unless permitted.

Q: So what is the big deal with the feathers on my dreamcatcher? I didn’t shoot the bird.

A: The dreamcatcher itself isn’t the problem; it’s the attached feathers. The special agent is alleging the feathers are from a protected species listed in the Act, such as a particular type of hawk.

Q: What is the big deal about a few feathers?

A: Well, the big deal is that the Act doesn’t require that you personally kill the protected bird. It’s enough for you just to possess feathers from a protected species. Here’s a part of the relevant portion of Section 703(a):

“Unless and except as permitted by regulations made as hereinafter provided in this subchapter, it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or eggs of any such bird, or any product, whether or not manufactured, which consists, or is composed in whole or part, of any such bird or any part, nest, or egg thereof.

Q: What are the penalties associated with violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

A: The maximum penalty for each violation is a fine of up to $5,000 and up to six months imprisonment, plus a “special assessment” of $25 per violation. However, most violators receive a notice that a fine payment of $250 plus a $25 processing fee can conclude the matter.

If you want your day in court, one will be provided if you don’t respond within 21 days by submitting payment to the Central Violations Bureau. You will want to hire a lawyer to represent you because the matter will be heard in a federal court, which is no place for the uninitiated.

Q: So what should we do as commercial drivers to avoid citations related to the Act?

A: We don’t know what the special interest in trinkets is about or why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has trained its sights on commercial vehicles. If you have any items in your truck that contain feathers, eggs, nests or other parts of protected migratory birds, you need to remove them ASAP. LL


Send any questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134, call (405) 242-2030,
fax (405) 242-2040, or e-mail