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Unprecedented Rollback of Migratory Bird Protections Disregard Law, Public Interest

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A change in how the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is enforced will reduce protections for wildlife at a time when migratory birds are facing severe challenges and steep declines. The Trump Administration’s decision, based on a legal interpretation already ruled illegal by the courts, would end enforcement against “accidental” killings of migratory birds, continuing the administration’s willful disregard of protections for these animals.  

“North America’s bird population has declined by 3 billion since 1970, with iconic American species like the snowy egret, wood duck and greater sandhill crane under significant threat,” said Mike Leahy, director of wildlife and hunting policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “This decision completely fails to comply with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and will likely result in countless avoidable bird deaths. It also does not meet the obligations under the law to engage the public and fully analyze environmental impacts and alternative approaches. We are calling on the Biden Administration and Congress to right this historic wrong by reinstating the Act’s protections, taking up the Migratory Bird Protection Act in the 117th Congress to clarify these longstanding safeguards, and authorizing a common-sense permitting approach.”

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 policies disregard the language of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act 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.

Even during a historically challenging year, more than 25 states, dozens of tribes, Members of Congress, 250,000 people, and the United States’ migratory bird treaty partner, Canada, all weighed in with deep concerns and opposition to this rule.  As a result of the rollback, earlier this year the House Natural Resources Committee passed the Migratory Bird Protection Act to supplement the protections for migratory birds that will be lost through the Department of Interior’s changes to how the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is interpreted.

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