The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act marks its 100-year anniversary this week. The United States enacted the act to protect and restore wild bird populations in North America on July 3, 1918. A means of implementing a 1916 treaty between the U.S. and Canada intended to preserve migratory bird species, the MBTA is a cornerstone piece of conservation and environmental legislation that the vast majority of Americans take for granted.
Back when Congress was capable of recognizing and tackling problems, leaders in this country realized that market hunting, egg collecting, and the plume trade were destroying an important natural resource. The last passenger pigeon had died just four years earlier, and many wading bird populations also were on the brink of extinction.
All those nifty great blue herons, egrets, and cranes that we take for granted today while enjoying our state’s lakes and wetlands today? They’d be long gone without the MBTA. Most songbirds and raptors probably would be, too. Heck, maybe we wouldn’t even have a duck season anymore.
But threats to this important law still exist today. Groups like the American Bird Conservancy believe that a legal opinion the Trump administration issued last December loosens bird protections covered under the act. We’ve written about the action several times since last December, but the policy deserves renewed criticism this week given the pending anniversary milestone.
ABC and other groups say that the Act’s prohibition on the killing or “taking” of migratory birds has long been understood to extend to “incidental take” – meaning unintentional but predictable and avoidable killing from threats such as oil pits that trap birds and tall towers and power lines responsible for many bird collisions.
Regarding the opinion, ABC wrote in a press release this week: “…the Administration abruptly reversed decades of government policy and practice – by both Democratic and Republican administrations – on the implementation and enforcement of the MBTA.”
Under the Trump administration’s revised interpretation, the MBTA’s protections will apply only to activities that purposefully kill birds. Any incidental take – no matter how inevitable or avoidable its impact on birds – is now immune from enforcement under the law, ABC says.
A coalition of groups, including the National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Federation, has filed litigation challenging the Administration on the move on the MBTA.
Many threats for wild birds still exist today, and we should be amping up our environmental laws in this country, not reversing the precedents from the past 20 presidential administrations. Unfortunately, this action runs consistent with too many other issues where the Trump administration hasn’t taken the right stance on wildlife and places where we hunt and fish.
Forget what’s happening at the Environmental Protection Agency or Department of Energy. Just consider clear issues of importance to sportsmen: relaxing sage grouse protection, Clean Water Rule, Land and Water Conservation Fund, Farm Bill, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments, slashing Interior agency budgets. The White House needs to hear that sportsmen expect better.