By NPT Staff on February 12th, 2020
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is being urged by a bipartisan collection of former Interior Department officials not to alter the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The changes being pursued by the Trump administration would shield companies whose operating practices kill migratory birds.
“This is a new, contrived legal standard that creates a huge loophole in the law by allowing companies to engage in activities that routinely kill migratory birds so long as they were not intending to do so,” wrote the former officials in a letter to Bernhardt. “It is now more urgent than ever that we implement policies to conserve our vanishing bird species rather than unraveling decades of progress and crippling the law that protects them.”
The signers include former deputy secretaries, assistant secretaries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service directors, and Migratory Bird Conservation chiefs who had direct responsibilities for implementing migratory bird policies and served in their positions under every presidential administration from President Nixon to President Obama.
"This legal opinion is contrary to the long-standing interpretation of the law held by every administration (Republican and Democrat) since at least the 1970s," reads the letter (attached). "The proposed rule turns the MBTA’s straightforward language into a conclusion that only the purposeful killing of migratory birds violates the Act."
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act turned 100 in 2018. It has been applied for decades by federal agencies and the courts to protect birds not just from unauthorized hunting but also from being harmed or killed by industrial operations. Migratory birds are increasingly threatened by land development, habitat loss, and the effects of climate change.
A recent study in Science claimed that nearly 3 billion birds have vanished from North America over the past 50 years.