Eight states file federal lawsuit to restore bird protection law

The author has stated before in his blog and in the print version of Outdoors News that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a cornerstone piece of environmental legislation that’s been working just fine for a century. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Attorneys General from New York, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico and Oregon this week filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Outdoor News wrote about this issue earlier in 2018 when the Audubon Society filed its suit against the Interior Department. This week’s action, led by New York’s Attorney General, was filed in the Southern District of New York and will be considered alongside National Audubon Society v. Department of the Interior, which was filed May 24. You can see a complete release on the matter from the N.Y. AG’s office here.

Last December, the Trump administration issued a legal opinion reversing decades of government policy and practice on implementing and enforcing the MBTA. Groups like Audubon maintain that the MBTA’s prohibition on the killing or “taking” of migratory birds has long been understood to extend to incidental take from industrial activities – meaning unintentional but predictable and avoidable killing.

Under the Trump administration’s revised interpretation from late last year, the MBTA’s protections will apply only to activities that purposefully kill birds. Incidental take – no matter how inevitable or devastating the impact on birds – is now immune from enforcement under the law, according to Audubon.

In a release, Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president of conservation policy for the National Audubon Society, called the new lawsuits “welcome wind beneath our wings in the fight to keep this vital bird protection law intact.”

“The MBTA sparked 100 years of conservation leadership in this country and it defies all facts for the Department of the Interior to now try to weaken it. As the eight cases filed today demonstrate, states in every region of this country continue to rely on this law to guide bird protections, just as they did when it passed in 1918.”

Audubon and other groups believe the risk of liability under the MBTA has forced the oil and gas industry, wind energy development companies, and power transmission line to play ball with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to minimize bird deaths. This new policy from the administration greatly curtails that incentive, Audubon says.

This morning, I called the Minnesota Attorney General’s office to ascertain why Minnesota isn’t a party to the lawsuit. Haven’t heard back as of midday.

As I’ve stated before in this blog and in the print version of Outdoors News, the MBTA is a cornerstone piece of environmental legislation that’s been working just fine for a century. I’m glad Audubon and these eight states are challenging the Trump administration on the matter, and I’d like to see Minnesota AG Lori Swanson throw this state’s hat into the suit, too.

Follow Rob Drieslein via Twitter @ODN_Editor. For additional blogs from Drieslein, click here.

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