Farmers could soon enjoy more freedom when it comes to defending their livestock against vulture attacks, thanks to a new piece of legislation.

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (IN-9th District) introduced the Livestock Protection Act of 2019 to Congress on June 25. It's in response to the recent spike in vulture attacks on livestock that farmers in Kentucky and Southern Indiana have faced and recommends making depredation permits more accessible to farmers.

Warmer winters may have increased the number of vultures in the U.S., said Wayne Long, the Jefferson County extension agent for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Vultures, he said, take advantage of climate change and hang around more in a spot they like.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 covers all migratory birds, their nests and their eggs, which means that the birds can't be harmed without federal permission. Their nests can only be disrupted, as a deterrent, if there are no eggs or young in them.

Farmers can obtain depredation permits from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but they cost $100 annually and require yearly renewal. To get a depredation permit, an applicant has to have already experienced loss of property.

The Livestock Protection Act would allow the Secretary of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife to issue depredation permits to farmers without proof of prior property damage.

The goal is for farmers to be able to protect their livestock proactively rather than re-actively, Hollingsworth's office said Tuesday, and would allow them some freedom from "a bloated federal bureaucracy."

"Black vulture attacks are real and costly problem for Hoosier farmers, and I've heard concerns from our agriculture community across Indiana's Ninth District," Hollingsworth said in a statement announcing the legislation.

"Our federal laws should not prevent farmers from taking proactive action against predatory birds," Hollingsworth's statement read, "and the Livestock Protection Act will empower our farmers to protect their cattle."

Indiana's Ninth Congressional District is home to nearly 20% of Indiana's more than 870,000 cattle and calves, according to the statement. Other legislators also supported the amendment, iuncluding Rep. Jim Baird (IN-4th District) and Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-1st District).

"Our nation's cattlemen are active conservationists whose operations depend on their ability to preserve the environment and habitat of their livestock," said Crawford in a statement.

"Unfortunately, they constantly face uncertainty due to a poor market or bad weather," Crawford went on. "The last thing they need is for a predatory animal to wreak havoc on their product. Black Vultures are a costly threat to cattlemen who are left with few tools to defend their livestock. Our government should be empowering, not hindering, these business owners as they work to protect their livelihood."

Baird added that, "The current depredation permit process denies them the ability to take action against these aggressive predators. I'm proud to support this bill giving farmers and ranchers the freedom they need to protect their livestock."

This bill does not relieve people with permits from following the rules already in place.

Permit regulations state that a permit-holding person can't lure the vultures into gun range with blinds, pits, decoy or deception.

Permit holders must use a waterfowl load -- a steel shot shotgun between a No. 2 to No. 4 shot when "taking" vultures. There are no specific caliber restrictions.

Each kill must still be reported to authorities.

NTSB blames Kentucky pilot in crash that killed 4 on hunting trip

By Bill Estep

Lexington Herald-Leader

SOMERSET -- A Kentucky pilot likely became disoriented as he maneuvered to avoid deteriorating weather conditions, leading to a crash in which he and three others died, according to a federal investigation.

The probable cause of the crash was that pilot Scott T. Foster, who wasn't rated to fly by instruments alone, flew into an area where the conditions would have required flying by instruments, resulting in a loss of control because of disorientation, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

One witness on the ground reported seeing the airplane in a nosedive before it crashed.

Attorneys for Foster's widow have raised the potential that icing on the wings of the plane was a significant factor in the crash. They also alleged that air-traffic control was negligent and was a direct cause of the crash.

The NTSB did not cite icing as a potential cause of the accident. The agency also said there was no indication of mechanical problems before the crash.

The crash happened on Nov. 12, 2017, as Foster, 41, and his son Noah, 15 returned from a hunting trip in western Tennessee with Kyle P. Stewart, 41, a dentist in Somerset, and Doug Whitaker, 40, who had served as chaplain for the Somerset Police Department and also was a lawyer.

Foster's plane, a Piper PA32 built in 1965, hit trees in a heavily wooded area near Fountain Run, in Barren County, and came to rest wedged between tree trunks.

The three men died at the scene. Rescuers found Noah alive and rushed him to a hospital in Bowling Green, but he died there.

The crash was among the worst air accidents in the state since an August 2006 crash at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington that killed 49 people.

NTSB reports on the accident include a description of how a pilot can become disoriented, lose control and go into a "graveyard spiral" to the ground.

In that situation, a pilot can have the sensation that the plane is flying in a direction it is not. The pilot may make a course change that feels correct, but isn't, the NTSB said.

Foster was flying east at an altitude of about 5,500 feet when he called the air-traffic control center in Memphis. He said he planned to climb in order to maintain VFR, or visual flight rules, according to the NTSB.

Those rules require a pilot to maintain a minimum number of miles of visibility and distance from clouds.

After a climb to 6,600 feet and a series of left and right turns, then a 180-degree turn to the left followed by one to the right, Foster called the Memphis tower to report encountering IMC, or instrument meteorological conditions, according to the report released Tuesday.

That indicated visibility conditions that would require flying by instruments. Foster asked the Memphis air-traffic center for information on an altitude with more visibility.

A controller radioed back just over a minute later to say another pilot in the area had reported the clouds topped out at an altitude of about 8,000 feet, and Foster responded that he would climb to that altitude. He was at 7,325 feet at the time.

Over the next 30 seconds, however, radar showed the plane made shallow turns to the left and right at altitudes between 7,000 feet and 7,300 feet, according to the NTSB.

The plane then made a shallow right turn followed by a downward right turn with increasing rates of banking and descent.

Less than a minute after saying he would climb to 8,000 feet, Foster's plane was at an altitude of 5,675 feet. "We're going down," he said on the radio.

The NTSB report said that under normal conditions when a pilot can see the ground and the horizon, the sensory system in the inner ear helps a pilot identify the movement of a plane.

When a pilot can't see the horizon, that sensory system can become unreliable, the report said.

The inner ear can't detect changes in the plane's orientation under certain conditions, or false sensations can make the pilot believe the orientation of the plane has changed when it hasn't, resulting in a condition known as spatial disorientation, the report said.

Pilots rated to fly by visual flight rules can experience the condition when flying into conditions of reduced visibility and possibly go into a "graveyard spiral," according to the report.

"If the pilot believes the illusion of a right turn (which can be very compelling), he/she will re-enter the original left turn in an attempt to counteract the sensation of a right turn. Unfortunately, while this is happening, the airplane is still turning to the left and losing altitude," the report said. "If the pilot fails to recognize the illusion and does not level the wings, the airplane will continue turning left and losing altitude until it impacts the ground."

The report said the erratic path of Foster's plane -- which included changes in altitude and direction inconsistent with his stated plan to climb to an area of better visibility -- and the rapidly descending right turn shown on radar were consistent with the known effects of spatial disorientation.

The NTSB said it believed a contributing factor in the crash was Foster's "self-induced pressure to complete the flight."

The wife of one passenger had planned a surprise party the Sunday afternoon that the four were due to return, the report said.

The report included a description of a behavior common among pilots called "get-there-itis" -- a drive to complete flights as planned, meet schedules and generally show they are capable.

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