U.S. Government Ignoring Critical Bird Protections

The U.S. Government is Ignoring Critical Bird Protections

The Department of the Interior is fast-tracking plans to strip away critical protections in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that, for 50 years, have protected migratory birds and their nests, eggs, and young. A recent article in Science (October 2019) estimates that 3 billion birds—or 29% of the population—in North America have been lost since 1970. Furthermore, National Audubon’s studies of the impacts of climate change on our native bird populations suggest that two-thirds are vulnerable to extinction. Birds are facing some serious challenges and cannot tolerate losing these important protections.

Prior to 2017, avoidable industry actions that killed birds, regardless of whether they were accidental or incidental, were still considered “take” under the migratory bird treaty act and subject to fines. For example, BP paid billions of dollars to mitigate bird deaths from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The migratory bird treaty act gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the leverage to require industries to use best practices to avoid killing migratory birds.

Why did the protections disappear?

Shortly after the Independent Petroleum Association of America requested a policy rollback, the Interior Department adopted a legal opinion that overturned decades of bipartisan precedent, giving companies a free pass for bird deaths caused by industrial hazards such as open oil pits and power lines.

Since the Department of Interior adopted the policy in 2017, some of the consequences have been:

  • When 3,000 snow geese died in Berkely Pit’s toxic water, the Trump administration refused to fine the mine’s two owners, Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield.
  • The oil industry no longer needs to worry about killing approximately one million birds every year in its pits and ponds.
  • Wind farms no longer need to consider designs and locations that minimize migratory bird deaths.

How Can You Help?

HR 5552 is a bill that would restore the protections of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and require industry to use best practices to avoid killing birds. Please contact your U.S. Representative and urge them to support and pass HR 5552.