A Win for Migratory Birds

In some good news for wildlife, the Southern District of New York just ruled that our lawsuit to protect migratory birds can move forward. In 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved to gut one of our most important conservation laws – the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Now we will continue the fight to keep migratory bird protections in place. 

3 sandhill cranes in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. December 2016

Mick Thompson/Flickr

As one of the nation’s first environmental laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been an essential tool for protecting migratory birds, providing for meaningful penalties against companies that harm these iconic bird species. But at the behest of the oil and gas industry and other industrial interests, the Trump administration and the Interior Department have radically reinterpreted how the Migratory Bird Treaty Act will be implemented and enforced. 

For decades, the federal government recognized that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies to industrial activities, like oil and gas development. That prompted companies to take steps to avoid killing birds, where possible, by doing things like covering oil waste pits or installing flashing lights on towers. These measures saved millions of birds that otherwise would have drowned in oil or died in preventable collisions.

In December 2017, the Trump Administration rolled back these protections, announcing that the law should only apply to bird deaths that are intentional, like those caused by hunting or poaching. But that interpretation is completely contrary to the law and its purpose. So we took them to court. Today’s ruling rejected the government's attempt to kick us out of court before we even got started. Now we can move forward with our arguments against the Administration's shortsighted attempt to gut migratory bird protections.

About the Authors

Rebecca Riley

Legal Director, Nature program

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