Victory for Birds in Virginia!

Governor Northam sets a new standard for bird conservation.

WASHINGTON (February 14, 2020) – Today the Commonwealth of Virginia declared that migratory birds will be protected under state law in light of rollbacks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by the Trump Administration. The state also committed to take substantial and immediate steps to create nesting habitat to protect birds during construction of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion project.

“We’ve lost 3 billion birds since 1970 and two-thirds are at risk of extinction due to climate change. Governor Northam’s leadership comes at a critical time and is a huge victory for birds,” said David O’Neill, chief conservation officer, National Audubon Society. “With the Department of the Interior’s headquarters just across the Potomac from Virginia, the Governor’s actions paint a stark distinction where birds are safe and where they aren’t. It’s inspiring to see this decisive action in Virginia at a time when the Trump Administration is turning its back on common sense bird conservation.”

Under the plan proposed today, Virginia will administer a permitting program for companies likely to impact bird populations. The program will establish and incentivize best management practices to avoid bird deaths. California is the only other state to take new legal steps to limit incidental take since the Trump Administration’s rollbacks, but there are signals that other states may quickly follow.  

“Virginia’s proposed permitting program is the kind of innovation we need to see coming from the federal government,” said O’Neill. “This solution proves that you don’t have to choose between economic growth and conservation. We’re working with more states to follow California and Virginia’s lead.”

The controversy over how to address bird impacts resulting from the Hampton Roads project arose as a result of the Administration’s rollback. In January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced a draft rule which would cement its three-year-old policy not to enforce the incidental taking of birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This means that companies are no longer required to implement policies like covering oil pits and marking power lines. This reverses decades of policy by Republican and Democrat administrations under the 100-year-old law.

To respond to the specific concerns about the loss of seabirds from the Hampton Roads project, Virginia will be taking the important steps to prepare nesting area for seabirds at Ft. Wool for the upcoming season, take precautions to deter nesting on South Island during the construction process, and accelerate a feasibility study and invest in the creation of an island to provide long-term habitat, all measures that improve the outlook for Virginia’s seabirds.

“These measures will minimize the impact of the upcoming construction on the terns, gulls and other nesting birds,” said Walker Golder, director of Audubon’s Atlantic Flyway Coast Initiative. “We were always confident that there was a solution and these thoughtful actions show Virginia’s commitment to balance conservation and growth. Audubon stands ready to help make sure these plans are successful.”


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.