In August, conservationists nationwide breathed a sigh of relief following Judge Valeri Caproni’s ruling on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Putting to close a 2018 case, her ruling affirmed the opinion that incidental take, or actions, threats, or activities creating indirect sources of bird mortality (think oil spills) are prohibited by the MBTA, whether intentional or not, unless by permit. While we know this ruling is crucial for migratory birds, we also knew it wouldn’t fully thwart the current administration’s efforts to weaken the MBTA.
Unfortunately, we were right, so it was no surprise when the United States Fish & Wildlife Service released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that had severely weakened provisions to enforce incidental take. Released this past Friday, on the heels of a National holiday, the November 27th EIS gives a pass to the companies most responsible for migratory bird mortality. And while industrial projects may individually appear to have a minimal impact on migratory birds, collectively incidental take still leads to the annual mortality of over 40 million birds.
And that’s the catch. The current lame duck administration considers the loss of 40 million birds a year to be within the range of acceptable environmental harm. But with the estimated loss of 3 billion birds since the 1970’s, this is just not acceptable. The public has shown support for a strong Migratory Bird Treaty Act time and again, and as our Executive Director Larry Berrin phrased it in a recent Great Falls Tribune article, “it’s just enough of an incentive that the companies have to think twice about where and how they do business.”
The current administration continues to ignore legal challenges, public opposition, and science and is now rushing to finalize a rule to weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Fortunately, we work with the knowledge that a new administration comes to the helm in the new year and can stave off any damage until then. To learn more about the newest release, visit https://www.fws.gov/regulations/mbta/, and keep your eyes out for our alert next week!