Trump Takes Aim at Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Reduces Protections for Nations Birds

Photo: U.S. National Park Service

By Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

On Friday, the Trump administration moved another step closer to cutting federal protections for birds despite opposition from conservation groups and experts. Former federal officials have come forward to say that cuts will severely endanger the U.S. bird population. The changes to the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) will severely limit the government’s ability to prosecute organizations and companies with practices that harm migratory birds.  The Interior Department approved on Friday the Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the effects of the proposed new rule, and now the rule could become final within 30 days.

Why This Matters: There are approximately 7 billion birds in North America. Harmful industrial practices in the U.S. kill an estimated 450 million to 1.1 billion birds each year in the U.S., according to estimates by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The American Bird Conservancy says that there are 279 critically endangered bird species in the Americas alone. Globally, biodiversity is declining at its highest rates in human history and according to a United Nations report, 1 million species are now endangered. The Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that the changes would have major consequences to not only migratory birds but also biological and cultural resources.  The question is how fast could the incoming administration undo these changes to a 100-year-old bedrock global biodiversity protection system.

MBTA Then and Now

The MBTA was passed originally to “stop the unregulated killing of migratory birds,” and gave the Fish and Wildlife Service the power to regulate the “taking” of migratory birds, including practices like hunting, trapping, and collecting them. The Trump administration’s proposed changes will narrow the scope of regulated practices, effectively excluding threats that birds face from industry. Some industrial threats that could fall outside of Fish and Wildlife regulatory jurisdiction after the changes include electrocution by powerlines, wind turbines, and toxic water.

Despite a rejection by a New York federal judge in August, the Trump administration has decided to continue with its assault on migratory birds. “This is another step by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to jam through a rule to cement an interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that a federal court has already declared illegal. At a time when North America has already lost 3 billion birds, the rule will further undercut our nation’s ability to conserve birds so many people care about deeply,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife.

NGO Reaction

David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society, emphasized that “reinstating this 100-year-old bedrock law must be a top conservation priority for the Biden-Harris Administration.” Other conservationists agree and hope that the Biden administration will prioritize reinstating protections not just for birds but for many other species that have fallen victim to the Trump administration’s pro-industry agenda. In October, Trump removed protections for gray wolves, and just recently, his administration moved to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.  Carter Roberts, President and CEO, of World Wildlife fund is eager for the new administration, “President-elect Biden has long been a champion for these issues. As a Senator, he advocated for US leadership on global biodiversity conservation.”



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