Interior Department guts century-old protections for migratory birds

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), a law that allowed many avian species to see another century. But instead of celebrating successful conservation policy, the Trump administration has significantly reduced the power and scope of the act. The MBTA has prohibited the capturing, killing, selling, or taking of migratory birds—anything from the little Rufa red knot to the great blue heron—since 1918. Issuing an opinion to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency in charge of enforcing the law, the U.S. Department of the Interior's new guidance is a radical reinterpretation of this bedrock protection. It allows individuals and companies to ignore an activity's impact on threatened birds as long as its intent was not to hurt the animals. This includes actions that will knowingly and predictably threaten bird populations, such as cutting down a tree with rare baby owls nesting in it or leaving oil waste pits uncovered. To put that in perspective, open waste pits from the oil and gas industry kill between 500,000 and a million birds each year. Killing birds may not be the goal of the pits, but the pits are littered with their bodies nonetheless. When the Interior issued its decision in December, 17 former Interior officials—from every administration, both Republican and Democrat, from Nixon to Obama—sent Secretary Zinke a letter requesting that he "suspend this ill-conceived opinion" and convene a bipartisan group of experts to find "a sensible path forward." Instead, we're getting yet another handout to polluting and destructive industries.

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