Trump Team Finishes Off Migratory Birds Rollback

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Companies that unintentionally kill or harm migratory birds will no longer face any penalties for their actions — as the Trump administration delivers its final blows to nature on its way out the door. Rolling back the1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act undermines the purpose of the legislation, which was created to protect migrating birds — not the businesses that harm them.  Migratory birds, like many other species, would greatly benefit from the proposal to protect 30% of the planet by 2030.

Why this matters: The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that industry action kills about 700 million birds every year. The administration has rammed through this rollback despite a court ruling that it’s illegal. Interior’s own analysis says it will push species onto the endangered list — but the rollback can be reversed by the incoming Biden administration. 

Many Bird Migrate

More than 1,000 species are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and many of their populations are in poor health as millions of acres of their habitat are lost to development and agriculture. The health of wildlife like birds is tied to our own human health. Birds handle pest control for farmers, are economic engines for bird watching, and disperse seeds for trees. With climate change shifting temperatures and migration patterns, birds should have more protection, not less.

Pandemics and birds on the move: Birds could also be an indicator of future pandemics like COVID. A study from the ‘60s discovered that waterfowl and shorebirds in Australia could become infected with and share a virus but not show any symptoms, not unlike an asymptomatic spreader of COVID. Different virus strains can mutate and spread around the world with birds as the carriers, meaning they could help predict the next pandemic. “By keeping an eye on the different strains circulating in wild birds,” Audubon Magazine wrote earlier this year, “scientists might be able to identify a potentially dangerous virus.” 

Migration maps: See how birds move across the Western Hemisphere with this amazing National Geographic interactive map. It puts migration routes into perspective, from the western tanager, which crosses the Western US from Mexico to Canada, to the greater yellowlegs, which forages on mudflats, flooded fields, salt marshes, and the margins of ponds on its route. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also maintains detailed abundance maps, which show key areas for different bird species across the country including migration stopover spots breeding grounds.  

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