Why We Must Protect the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

This critical 100-year-old law—and the more than 1,000 bird species it protects—is at risk.

This is a transcript of the video.

Katie Umekubo, senior attorney, NRDC: Right now, the Trump administration is directly attacking birds. They've decided to reinterpret a century-old statute that was enacted for the sole purpose of conserving migratory birds.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted in 1918. It's a very simple law. It prohibits the killing of migratory birds, of which there are a little over 1,000 different species that are protected under the act.

At the end of the 19th century, birds were facing unprecedented threats. Hunters and poachers would kill thousands of birds at once—just for their feathers, for fashion, for hats, for, you know, putting on sweaters or brooches.

The snowy egret, the wood duck, those are pretty well-known species now that today are actually pretty common. But it's all thanks to the enactment of this law that they were safe from the brink of extinction.

Protect the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Today we have industrial threats that put at risk just as many birds and species: oil and gas development, electrocutions of power lines, collisions with communication towers, and poisoning from pesticide applications.

Most industries don't want to harm birds. And what this law does is it incentivizes industries to work with agencies and other stakeholders to avoid harm to birds that they know is likely to occur.

For example, in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the way that the law applied was that it held BP responsible for the death of a million birds. They entered into a multimillion-dollar settlement agreement that directed funds under the act directly into wetlands conservation.

And today, if that happened, industry would not be held accountable. They wouldn't be fined, and they wouldn't be punished.

So now the Trump administration is basically just giving a free pass to companies and industries that do have impacts to birds to gut the statute and not allow the agency that's been administering it to enforce against massive bird kills.

These attacks are radical to say the least. This is something that no prior administration has done.

If the administration has their way, birds will suffer. And in turn, we will suffer. They're an integral part of our communities and our environment. We'll have a loss of biodiversity, and our future generations will likely not see the birds that we're seeing today.

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