Just two weeks before leaving office, the Trump administration finalized the repeal of America’s most important bird protection law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).
The Home Office, as the New York Times wrote, “delivered a parting gift to the oil and gas industry that has long sought protection from liability for accidental bird kills in oil spills, toxic waste ponds and other environmental disasters.”
The Times explains what has changed:
“As part of the measure that amends the implementation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the federal government will no longer penalize or prosecute companies whose actions cause the death of birds until killing birds was the underlying intent of the measure . This applies to accidents such as oil spills and electric shocks on power lines – as well as willful or even illegal acts such as spraying a prohibited pesticide – as long as birds are not the intended target of the poison. “
“Americans want birds and nature to be cared for – not brushed aside to serve commercial interests. We urge incoming government to correct this injustice as soon as possible, ”said Steve Holmer of American Bird Conservancy.
“Inconsiderate and incomprehensible”
Last January, Congressman Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat from California, tabled a bill called the Migratory Bird Protection Act (HR 5552) to reverse the government’s reinterpretation of the MBTA and reaffirm the law’s intention to protect migratory birds from industrial activity protect. Currently 96 members of the House of Representatives have signed the bill.
He made this statement on Trump’s rollback:
“The efforts of the Trump administration to reset the MBTA in the final days of its tenure have been as ruthless and incomprehensible as they are unsurprising. For more than a century, the MBTA has been an important tool for protecting migratory birds. The Trump administration has tried to weaken and hamper the law for nearly four years, including its dangerous reinterpretation of the law that not only undermines our international contractual obligations, but fails to hold commercial interests accountable when they endanger birds. If the Trump administration had their way, polluters would evade liability for damage when disasters such as oil spills occur. The company behind the next major oil spill is not responsible for killing birds like it did after Exxon Valdez and BP’s Deepwater Horizon. Even if they literally pack their bags to leave, the Trump administration continues its relentless assault on our environmental protection, only underscoring its willingness to sacrifice our wildlife and environment to protect the polluters. It is vital that the House and Senate act swiftly in the new Congress to pass my migratory bird protection law, and that the future Biden administration act just as swiftly to rectify this short-sighted rule. “
More anti-bird movements
The move to core the MBTA is one of several measures Trump is taking against the conservationists. For example:
- In mid-December, the government published a final regulation that provides for comprehensive exemptions from critical habitats under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which will significantly weaken wildlife protection. This rule is likely to be particularly harmful to state-dependent species, such as the owl, the marbled murrelet, and the western yellow-billed cuckoo, according to the American Bird Conservancy.
- The recently passed budget bill included a measure preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting the Greater Sage-Grouse under the ESA. More than 100 conservation groups “have long stood up against this dangerous rider, which harms not only the sage grouse but also the Sagebrush Sea, which is home to more than 350 other types of conservation concerns,” writes Defenders of Wildlife.
- The Bureau of Land Management opened millions of acres in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve for drilling, threatening the habitat for polar bears, caribou, and migratory birds. “These changes, along with the planned leasing in the Arctic Refuge, mean that virtually the entire Arctic coast of America is subject to seismic exploration and possible future oil and gas development,” reports Defenders of Wildlife.
- The US Forest Service plans to give mining giant Rio Tinto access to Oak Flat, an area of the Tonto National Forest in central Arizona. The move will enable an onshore copper mine rich in birds, cacti, and aquatic life – and that’s sacred ground for Western Apache tribes. Learn more from the Center for Biological Diversity and Russ McSpadden on Twitter.
- As we have documented in previous articles, Trump’s border wall threatens all types of wildlife and birds along the US-Mexico border. And in the last few weeks the construction of the wall has continued, which destroys miles of desert habitats. At the point where the San Pedro River flows north of Mexico into Arizona, the crews “quickly built a 30-foot steel bollard wall over the river bed,” reports CNN. The article references a report by Arizona Audubon that 40% of bird species in North America spend part of their life on the San Pedro River at some point. Follow Laiken Jordahl on Twitter for regular updates on the wall.
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