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

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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A baby humpback whale tail slaps in the Pacific Ocean in front of the West Maui Mountains. share your experiences / Moment / Getty Images

The depths of the oceans are heating up more slowly than the surface and the air, but that will undergo a dramatic shift in the second half of the century, according to a new study. Researchers expect the rate of climate change in the deep parts of the oceans could accelerate to seven times their current rate after 2050, as The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less
Opinions vary among healthcare providers and the conditions of their patients, as well as the infection rate in their communities and availability of personal protective equipment. Aekkarak Thongjiew / EyeEm Getty Images

By Joni Sweet

Should you skip your annual checkup? The answer would have been a resounding "no" if you asked most doctors before the pandemic.

But with the risk of COVID-19, the answer isn't so clear anymore.

Read More Show Less
People wait in a queue at a snack bar at Island H2O Live! water park in Kissimmee, Florida on May 23 as the attraction reopens for Memorial Day weekend after closing for the coronavirus pandemic. Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Viral images of thousands of people eschewing the recommendations of medical experts and epidemiologists were on full display in the U.S. over Memorial Day weekend. In Missouri, St. Louis County officials called the images of crowds gathered at pool parties at bars and yacht clubs in the Lake of the Ozarks an "international example of bad judgment," according to The Washington Post.

Read More Show Less
Only the paper part of a drink carton would be recycled everything else, including the plastic coating or layer or aluminum foil, would be incinerated as residual waste. tavan amonratanasareegul / Getty Images

By Jeannette Cwienk

When it comes to recycling and recyclability, very little, it seems is straightforward — even something as seemingly simple as orange juice can present a conundrum. In Germany, many smaller shops sell drinks in cartons or plastic bottles, both of which will end up in the yellow recycling bin. But how do their recycling credentials stack up?

Read More Show Less
A field of organic lettuce grows at a sustainable farm in California. thinkreaction / Getty Images

By Stephanie Hiller

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the future of the Cannard Family Farm—whose organic vegetables supplied a single Berkeley restaurant—was looking stark.

Read More Show Less
Nearly 200 Canadian organizations rolled out their demands for a "just recovery." DKosig / Getty Images

By Andrea Germanos

Nearly 200 Canadian organizations on Monday rolled out their demands for a "just recovery," saying that continuing business-as-usual after the pandemic would prevent the kind of far-reaching transformation needed to put "the health and well-being of ALL peoples and ecosystems first."

Read More Show Less

Trending

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage in Edmonton on Friday, April 24, 2020. Chris Schwarz / Government of Alberta / Flickr

Anti-pipeline protests work.

That's the implication behind comments made by Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage Friday on how coronavirus social distancing requirements could ease the construction of Canada's controversial Trans Mountain Expansion project.

Read More Show Less