The Trump administration is proposing formal regulations to cement into law a hotly-disputed legal opinion declaring that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) does not protect migratory birds from harms caused by industrial activities, dramatically undercutting the law’s ability to conserve birds.
This action follows an equally controversial weakening of the Endangered Species Act regulations that undermines the conservation of threatened and endangered species. A comprehensive study recently found that bird populations in North America are undergoing massive declines – a stunning 3 billion birds have been lost from the continent since 1970 – and federal law is essential to conserving and recovering these populations.
The MBTA protects more than a thousand species of migratory birds from overhunting and mortality from commercial activities and has long incentivized industries to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to minimize migratory bird deaths.
In December 2017, on the eve of the MBTA’s centennial, the Trump administration abruptly reversed decades of management and enforcement policy by reinterpreting the Act, claiming that it did not apply to industrial activities that kill birds. A legal memorandum issued by the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior declared that the law only protects birds from purposeful killing and unpermitted hunting, and that take by industries such as utility and energy companies is exempted from the law’s prohibitions, even where caused by negligence. The validity of the Department of the Interior’s legal interpretation is being challenged in federal court by Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation organizations, as well as a number of state governments. Today’s notice of a proposed rulemaking signifies the administration’s intent to nonetheless codify this controversial policy into law.
Earlier this month, Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and a group of 18 bipartisan original co-sponsors introduced the Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552) to reverse the administration’s reinterpretation of the MBTA and reaffirm the law’s intent to protect migratory birds from industrial activities.
Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark, issued this statement:
“Despite 100 years of conservation success, the Trump administration is doubling down on its reckless and illegal decision to weaken the protections of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, leaving our nation’s birds unprotected against careless corporate conduct.
“Whether they are in our backyards or the most remote wilderness, birds connect us to nature. Instead of attacking our nation’s bedrock wildlife conservation laws, the Trump administration should be reaffirming and strengthening the nation’s commitment to protecting birds.”