100 Years of Successful Migratory Bird Protections Are Now at Risk from Administration’s Decision

WASHINGTON, DC — Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued guidance signaling that the FWS would no longer enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act except in the extremely limited cases of purposefully causing death and harm. This action is based upon an unprecedented Department of the Interior legal opinion that removes a century of protections for birds. Migratory birds are not only beautiful, they play an important role in agriculture and the economy, in addition to the value they provide to hunters and birdwatchers.

In response, the National Wildlife Federation’s President and CEO, Collin O’Mara stated today:

“This decision sends a signal to industry that common-sense measures to protect birds are no longer needed — putting millions of America’s treasured migratory bird populations at unnecessary risk. The overreaching action blatantly ignores any plain text reading of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and falls far afield from the past century’s bipartisan tradition of responsibly implementing the Act. The National Wildlife Federation will work with the National Audubon Society and other conservation groups, as well as responsible industry partners, to ensure that critical protections are restored to our nation’s birds.”

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in 1918 in recognition of the need to protect North America’s birds from unpermitted killing and harm. It has helped save the Sandhill Crane, Snowy Egret, Wood Duck, and more than 1,000 other iconic bird species, making it one of the nation’s greatest conservation success stories. The language of the Act states that “it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner” to kill or harm migratory birds. The Act also allows the Department of Interior to draft regulations permitting exceptions to this requirement.

For many decades, both Republican and Democrat administrations have worked with industry to ensure that various practices and projects do not unintentionally kill large numbers of birds. The Interior Department’s new polices disregard the language of the Act and the bipartisan history of how it has been applied by allowing birds to be killed at any time, by any means, or in any manner — as long as the purpose is not specifically to kill birds. Seventeen former, high-level Department of the Interior officials from both parties have railed against this rollback, saying that it “needlessly undermines a history of great progress, undermines the effectiveness of the migratory bird treaties, and diminishes U.S. leadership.”

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