Apr 5, 2018
You could call it the Nebraska bird eclipse. At the first dart of morning light, so many sandhill cranes take off from the banks along the Platte River they darken the sky.
This primeval spectacle, part of a massive spring migration from South America to the northern reaches, draws viewers from around the world.
For a century — through depression, world war and countless other national crises — American presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, have honored laws ensuring the survival of these migrating species.
Until this one.
Since Inauguration Day, the Trump administration has engaged in a tireless assault on the nation’s environmental protections.
It should thus surprise no one that it is now going after the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Three days before Christmas, it issued a legal opinion that the law doesn’t prohibit the incidental killing of these birds. Penalties for doing so vanished.
Gutting the law gives industry a free pass to stop taking steps to minimize the deaths of migrating birds. And what makes the move especially perverse is that the things companies can do to comply cost, in most cases, mere pocket change.
For example, birds flying overhead often confuse open waste pits for wetlands. They land in the toxic muck and die. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that up to 1 million birds are killed every year in oil pits and evaporation ponds.