Biden Administration Reverses Trump Rollback of Migratory Bird Treaty Act 

 Cranes Migrating Photo: Antonio, Wiki CC

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

On Thursday, the Biden administration proposed a new rule that would reverse the Trump administration’s weakening of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Act’s implementation was weakened in 2020, allowing industrial operations and individuals to unintentionally kill many birds without accountability. It is one of several wildlife protections rolled back by the former administration, and this action by President Biden signals a new commitment to America’s wildlife alongside his commitment to protect 30% of lands and waters by 2030.  Two hundred seventy-nine bird species are now endangered in the Americas, and the extinction crisis is only accelerating. This damage to migratory bird populations harms ecosystems and Indigenous communities across continents that rely on these species.

Why This Matters: The world is facing a biodiversity crisis, losing more species each year than ever before. America’s bird populations are struggling to cope with climate change, and each year, industry in the U.S. kills an estimated 450 million to 1.1 billion birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of the country’s oldest wildlife protections, dating back 102 years. President Biden’s commitment to science-backed, bedrock conservation laws will serve him well as the administration seeks to implement one of the most significant conservation projects in the last 50 years, the “America the Beautiful” Plan that charts a course to achieve the 30% protection pledge.

Flying Under the Radar

The Trump administration’s rollback said that a company or individual who unintentionally killed birds, such as destroying a structure containing a bird family, was no longer liable for the deaths and ordered law enforcement to ignore such crimes. Like most of the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks, the primary beneficiaries were oil companies. The oil industry had previously committed 90% of prosecuted killings, paying $6,500 per violation. While the rollback was popular with industry, it wasn’t popular with officials from either party and was met with bipartisan outrage. Eight state attorneys general challenged the rollbacks, and one U.S. District Judged issued an opinion that invalidated the rollback. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also objected. “We have heard from our partners, the public, tribes, states, and numerous other stakeholders from across the country that it is imperative the previous administration’s rollback of the MBTA be reviewed to ensure continued progress toward common-sense standards that protect migratory birds,” said the agency’s principal deputy director, Martha Williams.

 “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a bedrock environmental law that is critical to protecting migratory birds and restoring declining bird populations,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a statement. “Today’s actions will serve to better align Interior with its mission and ensure that our decisions are guided by the best available science.” Opponents argue that skyscrapers, cars, power lines, and cats also present threats to birds, but supporters say that industry has the power to protect wildlife from their practices. Now, the oil industry is looking for compromise; environmentalists are looking for clarity. “We hope to see the administration follow quickly with another rulemaking to establish a reasonable permitting approach for incidental take,” said Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president of conservation for Audubon. “A permitting program is a common-sense approach to clarifying these long-standing protections and providing the certainty industry wants.”

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