Public Policy

More Than 500 Organizations in All 50 States Urge Congress to Defend Bird Protection Law

Audubon Connecticut joins a widespread effort to protect against threats in Congress and the Department of the Interior to weaken the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Least Terns
Least Terns. Photo: Jeffrey Bernier / Audubon Photography Awards

February 8, 2018Audubon Connecticut has joined together with a total of 513 conservation groups and other organizations from all 50 states to urge Congress to defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)—the most important bird conservation policy in the United States. The Act, which has protected North American birds for 100 years, is currently under attack by both the Department of the Interior and Congress, led by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY).

“Killing birds is a poison policy for Congress and the Department of the Interior. Americans in all 50 states are rising up to support 100 years of bipartisan agreement to protect America’s birds from avoidable deaths,” said David Yarnold (@david_yarnold), president and CEO of the National Audubon Society.

“Under either Rep. Liz Cheney’s proposal or the Interior Department’s legal opinion, BP would have been completely off the hook for the one million birds that died in the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Common sense says no one really wants that, and organizations representing millions of people are asking Congress to listen.”

In November, Rep. Cheney introduced a measure to gut the MBTA as an amendment to H.R. 4239, a bill written to weaken environmental protections in order to facilitate oil and gas drilling. Three days before Christmas, the administration followed suit when the Office of the Solicitor within the Department of the Interior released an opinion saying it will no longer enforce the MBTA in cases of incidental bird deaths, effectively giving a blank check to industry to avoid gruesome and preventable bird deaths.

In Connecticut, the MBTA protects birds of forest and field, of marshes and meadows, and those that depend on the resources of the Long Island Sound. The MBTA motivates electrical utility and communications companies to implement best practices that protect migrating songbirds, like the Wood Thrush, Field Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark, from collisions with power lines and towers. It also ensures that all efforts are made to prevent unintentional harm to waterfowl and shorebirds, from Common Mergansers to Semipalmated Sandpipers, in the event of an oil spill or contamination of our waterways. Reinterpreting the MTBA, let’s industries off the hook, allowing them to disregard best practices and ignore the impacts of environmental disasters on birds and other wildlife.

The MBTA is one of the Audubon Society and the American conservation movement’s earliest victories and has protected millions if not billions of birds in its century-long history. Congress passed the MBTA in 1918 in response to public outcry over the mass slaughter of birds, which threatened egrets and other species with extinction. The law prohibits killing or harming America’s birds except under certain conditions, including managed hunting seasons for game species. Today, this law protects birds from 21st-century threats by bringing together industry, government, and conservation organizations to implement best-management practices. Commonsense solutions like covering oil pits and flagging transmission lines protect countless birds each year from otherwise needless deaths.

This united message shows that organizations and their members from across the country want to see this Congress build on our nation’s 100-year conservation ethic, which brought into being laws like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the establishment of our national parks. These groups ask our elected officials to rightly reject misguided efforts and false narratives that pit conservation against economic development.

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Facts and figures on industrial causes of bird mortality in the United States:

Additional quotes from major conservation groups:

"Some companies put strong conservation practices in place without needing legal incentives,” said Steve Holmer, vice president of policy at American Bird Conservancy. “But having the law in place encourages all companies to do the right thing. These changes to MBTA would take the teeth out of the only law that protects the majority of our native birds."

“For a century, the United States alongside Canada and other nations have committed to protect migratory birds," said Bob Dreher, senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife. “Now, on the 100th anniversary of the MBTA, Congress and the Trump administration are reneging on this promise. Birds connect every American to nature, and are a source of joy and beauty for millions of people every day, but these attacks seek to undermine our nation’s strongest law to protect them.”

“The latest giveaway to oil and gas interests: birds. Or at least one of the oldest and most important laws on the books for birds. Rolling back the MBTA gives industry a pass on common-sense actions that should be taken to protect birds and other wildlife. This action doesn’t just back step on our nation’s storied conservation legacy, it also represents one more example of the Trump administration stepping away from our international commitments to protect the environment,” said Katie Umekubo, senior attorney for the Nature Program at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

About Audubon: The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more how to help at www.audubon.org and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.

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