In what’s being portrayed as a government agency’s overreaction to an outbreak of avian flu on a Saskatchewan chicken farm, hundreds of U.S. hunters returning from the Canadian province last week had their ducks, geese and upland gamebirds confiscated by federal agents.

As you might expect, hunters who were blind-sided by the action are pretty riled about having their birds snatched by border agents.Map_main_3

My good friend Chris Niskanen, the fine outdoors scribe for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, sent me a heads-up e-mail on the breaking story. His account of the incident appeared on his paper’s front page yesterday. (Note: When a hunting story appears on the front page of a major city’s daily newspaper these days, that in itself is big news, folks.)

Niskanen writes that thousands of hunters’ birds were confiscated at border crossings in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota between Thursday and Saturday, before the federal directive was finally rescinded.

Apparently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture misinterpreted its own directives and banned all imports of poultry and “unprocessed avian products” from Saskatchewan after an outbreak of avian influenza H7N3 last week on a commercial chicken farm near Regina.

According to Niskanen’s reporting, customs agents in North Dakota and Minnesota confiscated about 4,100 birds from hunters in 88 vehicles, with each vehicle containing three or four hunters. A spokesman for U.S. Customs said all the birds were destroyed and numerous garbage trucks were needed to haul the fowl from the check stations.

A wildlife ecology professor from Louisiana who happened to be caught up in the unfortunate situation called it a ridiculous bureaucratic snafu and a waste of valuable wild game.

“Biologically, it makes no sense whatsoever,” said Michael Chamberlain, a professor at Louisiana State University. “They were saying you can’t transport a hunter-killed bird across the border, when millions of birds are migrating across the border already?”

Chamberlain said he heard about the ban before reaching the Regina airport Saturday, so his group gave its wild game away to local families. Others were caught off-guard. The professor said the scene at the airport was “ugly” as customs officials confiscated coolers of waterfowl and other gamebirds from hunters.

Chamberlain told Niskanen he heard reports that hunters turned back at U.S. border crossings were told to dispose of birds in garbage cans or even in road ditches-despite the fact that wasting game meat is against the law in both countries.

“It’s such a waste,” Chamberlain said. “They’re telling you to get rid of your birds, but you can get a ticket for wanton waste.”

Indeed, we suspect the scene was quite ugly at the border for those three dark days.