WASHINGTON - “Birds will be safer in this country thanks to the leadership of the Biden-Harris administration,” said Dr. Elizabeth Gray, president and acting CEO, National Audubon Society. “Reinstating these protections will restore decades of bipartisan precedent. The newly announced plans to strengthen the century-old law are a welcome and necessary step to address the loss of three billion birds in North America.”
The Biden-Harris administration announced a final rule today which will revoke the previous administration’s gutting of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The administration also published an intent to establish a new authorization program and clarification of these longstanding protections.
In January of this year, the Trump administration finalized a change that limited the MBTA’s protections only to activities that purposefully kill birds, exempting all industrial hazards from enforcement. Any “incidental” death—no matter how inevitable, avoidable or devastating to birds—became immune from enforcement under the law. If this change had been 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.
“Over the last century the MBTA has been critical to protecting birds, including spurring the recovery of the Snowy Egret, the Sandhill Crane, the Wood Duck, and more,” said Erik Schneider, policy manager, National Audubon Society. “Birds are telling us they are in trouble, and with their protections returning, we must now strengthen the MBTA for the future.”
New science has revealed the loss of 3 billion birds in North America since 1970 and that two-thirds of birds are at risk of extinction due to climate change. Just today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just announced 11 bird species are now considered extinct.
In light of these alarming reports, the National Audubon Society is advocating for policy proposals that will Bring Birds Back, including a multi-front approach to reinstate the longstanding interpretation of this foundational law and enhance its implementation.
“We are glad to see the administration build on today’s action by starting a rulemaking process that can advance bird protections and increase certainty," said Schneider. "We hope to see a collaborative process that leads to the development of a common-sense permitting program for businesses to manage their obligations under the MBTA. A straightforward and well-funded permitting program will spur innovation and best practices for how industry can protect birds in their day-to-day operations.”
Congress also is exploring similar measures. The Migratory Bird Protection Act was passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee in the 116th Congress and had a bipartisan group of more than 90 co-sponsors. It was reintroduced earlier this year with a bipartisan list of cosponsors.
The bill would secure protections for birds and direct 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.
“We also hope to see Congress pass the Migratory Bird Protection Act to strengthen these longstanding protections and support this common-sense approach,” said Schneider. “We have an opportunity to create more certainty for businesses while improving the way we protect birds in the years ahead.”
The reversal by the Trump administration generated widespread and bipartisan opposition. More than 25 states, numerous tribal governments, scientists, sportsmen, birdwatchers, and 400,000 people submitted comments opposing the proposed rule change, and several conservation organizations and eight attorneys general filed litigation to challenge the rule change.
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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 about how to help at www.audubon.org and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.