Press Room

Administration Doubles Down on Bird-Killer Policy

100-year-old bipartisan conservation law in the cross-hairs

WASHINGTON (January 30, 2020) – “The Trump Administration’s Bird Killer Department, formerly known as the Department of the Interior, just gets crueler and more craven every day,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of Audubon (@david_yarnold).  “And today they are doubling down despite the fact that America did not elect this administration to kill birds.”

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed rule that eliminates the Migratory Bird Treaty Act's (MBTA) prohibition on the killing or "taking" of migratory birds from industrial activities, such as birds flying into uncovered oil pits or other predictable and avoidable killing – also known as “incidental take”. That policy change first appeared in a 2017 Department of the Interior legal opinion (M-37050), but with this rulemaking it would be cemented as an official regulation.

“For decades, both Republican and Democratic administrations have relied on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as the primary tool for protecting birds in this country. This mean-spirited rule is pure politics and birds will pay the price,” said Yarnold.

This policy change has been denounced by 17 former Interior Department officials from administrations on both sides of the aisle and 500 organizations that are dedicated to conserving wildlife. The announcement comes at a time when a recent report in Science documented that North America has lost 3 billion birds since 1970, and an Audubon report found that two-thirds of North America’s birds are threatened by climate change.

Under the Trump administration's revised interpretation, the MBTA’s protections apply only to activities that purposefully kill birds, exempting all industrial hazards from enforcement. Any “incidental” death—no matter how inevitable, avoidable or devastating the impact on birds—becomes immune from enforcement under the law. 

Audubon filed suit in May 2018 challenging that opinion. Eight states filed a similar suit in September 2018. In July 2019, the district court gave a greenlight for the lawsuit to advance. And this January, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted to advance the Migratory Bird Protection Act, a bill that would counter this rollback and add new innovations to the century-old law.

For decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked with industry to advance common sense precautions like covering oil waste pits so birds don’t mistake them for safe ponds; insulating small sections of power lines so raptors don’t get electrocuted; siting wind farms away from bird migration routes and habitats. The law has also provided accountability and recovery after oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon. BP paid a $100 million MBTA fine for the death of an estimated one million birds, which is restoring habitat for birds impacted by the spill. Under this new policy, oil companies will be off the hook for any bird deaths under the law.

In 2018, in celebration of 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, more than 60 cities, counties or states passed proclamations in celebration of the MBTA’s success.

Facts and figures on industrial causes of bird mortality in the United States:


Media Contact: Matt Smelser,, 202.516.5593

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using, science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more how to help at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.



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