Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Migratory Bird Treaty Act under attack in Congress

Are you familiar with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918  It’s the law that says you cannot possess any part of a non-game bird native to North America. You can’t have a molted feather of a cardinal, an old robin’s nest, or even a hawk’s egg shell unless you have state and federal permits.

With a law like that, you’d think U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers would be hauling in third-graders across the country for their blue jay feather collection, but the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is mainly enforced in cases of suspected poaching. It was created to reign in egg collectors, stop people killing herons and egrets for hats and clothing, or just shooting hawks for fun at migratory hot spots It’s hard to prove poaching without witnessing the act so having the parts of native species can get you fined. Someone under investigation could have a whole bunch of green heron feathers and say, “Oh, I just found these in the woods. I certainly didn’t shoot a green heron for these feathers,” but having the feathers without the proper permits means you can still be fined.  

These days the Act has been used in cases like the seven men with a roller pigeon club who were charged with killing native hawks they worried would kill their non-native pets. It’s also used in cases when people are raising native birds as pets illegally and in some cases, energy companies can be prosecuted as well if something like a wind farm is not properly sited and kills protected native birds.

Recently, however, Congressman Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina, inserted an amendment into the House Appropriations bill that funds Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies that would make the Migratory Bird Treaty ineffective. He added, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to prosecute or hold liable any person or corporation for a violation of section 2(a) of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703(a).”

This is not the only attack Duncan is making on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. He also added a rider on the bill that funds the U.S. Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency to block the use of Interior funds to enforce not only the Migratory Bird Treaty Act but also the important Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of taking incidental birds.

Basically, there would be no money to prosecute anyone who violated either acts. So let’s say that there is another BP disaster that killed thousands of birds like bald eagles, common loons and pelicans. With these amendments BP would not be prosecuted or fined for any of the birds killed – not even for bald eagles. What’s really interesting about all of this is that the National Audubon Society has documentation linking Duke Energy to Duncan, including $23,000 in contributions to his political campaigns and paying a lobbyist group at least $60,000 to get them to amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Duke Energy is notable because it’s the first “green energy” company to be prosecuted and fined over $1 million under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 2013 for the deaths over 150 bird species at two different wind farms in Wyoming.

Both of these Acts are tremendously important in the protection of native birds we all enjoy – from eagles to cardinals and chickadees to swans. These amendments must not pass.

So, where does it stand now?

The bill with the amendment attacking only the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed by the House on June 3 and has moved onto the Senate. It’s very possible that it could be dropped from the bill, but if not and it heads to the President’s desk, there’s no guarantee Obama would veto it. The amendment attacking both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is still being worked on in the House and won’t have much more movement until after the July 4 recess.

 What can you do? Contact your senator and let them know that the amendment can’t stand. If you do not feel comfortable writing the letter or know who your senator is, The American Bird Conservancy has a form you can fill out that includes a letter. You can also add some of your own words as well.

Write today and encourage all your friends and family to do it. We cannot take birds for granted and we cannot let them down by removing these important protections.

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