Administration Moves to Finalize Bird-Killer Policy

Ignoring legal challenges, public opposition, and science, the Trump Administration is rushing to finalize a rule to weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

WASHINGTON  – “President Trump may have pardoned a turkey this week, but he’s in a frenzy to finalize his bird-killer policy before the end of the year.” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. “The administration lost in court and is sidestepping that ruling with a rushed, corrupt process designed to keep the next administration from saving the lives of millions of birds. Reinstating this 100-year-old bedrock law must be a top conservation priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and the 117th Congress.”

Today the Department of the Interior released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in one of the last steps in its effort to strip away critical protections in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). To speed up the environmental review, the administration minimized the comment period, and failed to undertake a serious analysis of environmental impacts and reasonable alternatives, which robbed the public of an opportunity to participate and see a full accounting of the rule’s devastating impacts.

“This environmental review process has made a mockery of the public engagement and scientific review required under the law,” said Yarnold.

The administration’s rollback has received bipartisan opposition including from members of Congress, more than 25 states, numerous tribal governments, scientists, sportsmen, birdwatchers, and 250,000 people who submitted comments opposing the proposed rule change. In August, a federal court invalidated the policy that serves as the legal foundation for the regulatory effort, for which the administration is seeking an appeal.  

“We will continue to fight these changes in court, but we need Congress to pass the Migratory Bird Protection Act to reinforce this vital law,” added Yarnold.

In 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. If passed, the new law would end industry’s free pass to kill birds by directing the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to develop a permitting process for “incidental take” through which relevant businesses would implement best management practices and document compliance, further driving innovation in how to best prevent bird deaths.

The rule change would overturn decades of bipartisan precedent, to only extend the MBTA’s protections to activities that purposefully kill birds, exempting all industrial hazards from enforcement. Any “incidental” death—no matter how inevitable, avoidable or devastating to birds—becomes immune from enforcement under the law.

For example, if the administration’s interpretation of the law were in place in 2010, BP would have faced no consequences under the MBTA for the more than one million birds killed in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP ended up paying $100 million in fines thanks specifically protections in the MBTA that would be weakened by the Trump Administration.

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.

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


Media Contact: Matt Smelser,, 512.739.9635

About Audubon
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 at and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.