sandhill-cranes
Migratory Birds Sandhill cranes roost on the Platte River at sunset. © © Chris Helzer/TNC

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Administration Moves to Weaken Migratory Bird Safeguards

Proposed rule would end decades of protections for migratory birds.

Arlington, VA

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The Trump administration today proposed to roll back key protections against the unintentional killing of migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The proposed rule would codify a controversial legal opinion issued by the Department of the Interior in 2017 declaring the act does not prohibit unintentional killing of birds.

“For more than a century, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been the shield against the extinction of over 1,000 species of birds in North America,” said Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer at The Nature Conservancy.

“This rule would break that shield, replacing it with an ill-conceived approach that throws out decades of bipartisan commitment to balancing economic activity with safeguards for bird populations.”

Passed by Congress in 1918, the act is one of the United States’ oldest wildlife conservation laws and has a long and successful track record of protecting species such as the snowy egret, wood duck, sandhill crane and red-tailed hawk. For more than 50 years, both Republican and Democratic administrations have applied the act to prohibit, without a permit, both intentional and unintentional killing of covered species.

The latter has driven common-sense standards such as requiring oil producers to put nets over crude oil waste pits to prevent birds from landing in them, as well as better siting and operation of wind turbines. If these proposed changes are finalized, companies will no longer face legal consequences or have incentive to use best management practices to avoid activities that are deadly to migratory birds.

“With bird populations already facing increasing threats like climate change and habitat loss, there is simply no reason to now weaken their protections,” said Scarlett. “This contrived rule change does not make sense and will only lead to more bird killings. We strongly urge the administration to learn from the lessons that more than a century of success has taught—that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act works – and withdraw its proposal.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.