Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Former DOI Officials Want Zinke to Reconsider Changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Animals
Former DOI Officials Want Zinke to Reconsider Changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

By Jamie Rappaport Clark

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) enacted by Congress turns 100 this year, and has been read by federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and the courts, as protecting birds not just from unauthorized hunting but also from being trapped, poisoned or mangled by industrial operations. Migratory birds are increasingly threatened by land development, habitat loss and the effects of climate change.


On Dec. 22, 2017, the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior issued a legal memorandum reversing the longstanding interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to exempt industry—including the oil and gas industry, powerlines and wind energy—from compliance with the U.S.' commitment under international agreements to protect migratory birds.

Snow geese.

This new legal interpretation flies in the face of what every administration since the 1970's has held to be true: The Migratory Bird Treaty Act strictly prohibits the unregulated killing of birds. Instead, Trump's Interior Department has gone out of its way to turn the act's straightforward language into a giant loophole for companies whose activities routinely kill birds.

Thursday, a bipartisan coalition of 17 former Department of the Interior officials spanning the last 40 years sent a letter to Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke condemning a legal reinterpretation of the MBTA that could result in the unregulated killing of birds.

The coalition wrote:

The MBTA can and has been successfully used to reduce gross negligence by companies that simply do not recognize the value of birds to society or the practical means to minimize harm. Your new interpretation needlessly undermines a history of great progress, undermines the effectiveness of the migratory bird treaties, and diminishes U.S. leadership.

Birds are, quite literally, the proverbial "canary in the coal mine." How birds fare in the world indicates how all wildlife and habitat, and by extension human populations, will fare. It is not just poetry that led Rachel Carson to title her seminal work, Silent Spring. All the past administrations for which we have worked have struck a balance and worked diligently and in good faith with industries that had significant impacts on birds, such as oil and gas, coal, electric utilities, commercial fishing, communications, transportation, national defense, and others to reasonably address unintended take. It can be done. In fact, it has been done.

In a world where connections to nature are becoming ever more tenuous, birds are the wildlife that Americans encounter daily. Whether we are conservationists, birdwatchers, hunters or just citizens who enjoy the natural world, conserving birds is a common interest. In addition, we must consider how our treaty partners in Canada, Mexico, Japan and Russia will view this new interpretation. Only a few years ago, the U.S. exchanged formal diplomatic notes with Canada reaffirming our countries' common interpretation that incidental killing of birds was prohibited by the treaty.

Just as Theodore Roosevelt declared and demonstrated, we, as Federal officials, endeavored to strike a balance between development and conservation. We recognized that strict liability must be tempered with common sense notions of reasonable foreseeability and readily available alternatives. We are anxious to explore this balance and provide you with an approach that we can all support, and one that will continue the proud record of U.S. leadership in conserving birds."

Jamie Rappaport Clark

As former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under President Bill Clinton, I signed this letter because it is shameful that the Trump administration will celebrate the milestone of 100 years of protecting migratory birds by weakening this critical bedrock environmental law at the expense of wildlife.

Jamie Rappaport Clark

From the remotest wilderness to right in our own backyards, birds connect us to the glory of our natural surroundings. We must protect them today, and for the future.

Jamie Rappaport Clark has been with Defenders of Wildlife since February 2004 as executive vice president. In October 2011, she took the reins as president and CEO.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. struck down the Trump administration's proposed changes to the SNAP benefits program. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. late Sunday struck down the Trump administration's proposed changes to the SNAP benefits program, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of people from losing badly needed federal food assistance.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Demonstrators hold signs at an anti-tar sands march in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2015. Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0

By Andrea Germanos

A group of Indigenous women and their allies on Monday urged the heads of major global financial institutions to stop propping up the tar sands industry and sever all ties with the sector's "climate-wrecking pipelines, as well as the massively destructive extraction projects that feed them."

Read More Show Less

Trending

Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?

Read More Show Less
A flying squirrel in Florida. Despite their name, flying squirrels do not actually fly, but rather glide between trees. Danita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images Plus

In January of 2019, a concerned citizen in Marion County, Florida noticed something strange: Someone was trapping flying squirrels.

Read More Show Less
New research finds baby bottles may release millions of microplastic particles with each feeding. Beeki / Needpix

The process of preparing and mixing a baby bottle formula seems innocuous, but new research finds this common occurrence is actually releasing millions of microplastic particles from the bottle's lining, Wired reported.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch