We’re Suing Zinke for Slashing Bird Protections

Today, NRDC and the National Wildlife Federation, along with the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and American Bird Conservancy, filed a lawsuit to stop Interior Secretary Zinke from gutting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Sandhill Cranes

Photo: Dale Garrison; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or MBTA, is one of our nation’s first wildlife conservation laws, and it implements our international commitments to conserve migratory bird populations. As described in more detail in my previous blog, the Department of the Interior recently reinterpreted this 100-year old law in a way that drastically slashes the MBTA’s reach and ability to protect birds.

Our lawsuit is challenging Interior’s reinterpretation of the MBTA because it contradicts the statute’s plain language and intent—to stop massive bird kills—and is therefore unlawful. The MBTA states in no uncertain terms,

Unless and except as permitted by regulations…it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess… any migratory bird, any part, nest, or egg of any such bird…included in the terms of the conventions…”

16 U.S. Code § 703.

Under Secretary Zinke, Interior decided to turn this language on its head, reading-in a brand new requirement that only intentional or purposeful acts to harm birds are prohibited by this clause—limiting the MBTA’s application to activities like hunting and poaching and exempting virtually all industrial activities, no matter how egregious the act.

Why did they do this? Because the oil and gas industry asked for it. Not only is this reinterpretation a radical change that departs from all previous administrations that addressed the issue, but the consequences are immediate. Just yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was scrapping an effort started three years ago to evaluate the environmental impacts and permitting possibilities to protect birds from industrial harms.

We cannot let Secretary Zinke add one of the oldest and most important laws for birds to his list of anti-environmental giveaways. And especially when we’re already fighting to protect birds from threats like habitat loss and climate change. Gutting this landmark environmental law is completely unacceptable.

This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.

About the Authors

Katie Umekubo

Senior Attorney, Lands Division, Nature Program

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