The Trump administration is fast tracking efforts to strip away critical protections for birds under the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or MBTA. The proposed changes would give industries a free pass to kill birds when it’s “incidental” to their “otherwise lawful” activity.
MBTA has ensured that industry take steps like covering oil waste pits to prevent migrating birds from landing in them, implementing best practices for power lines and other structures to avoid bird collisions, and finding mitigating or alternative measures for major activity in sensitive nesting habitat.
More than one million birds were killed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Fines of $100 million were imposed under MBTA to restore bird habitat. Fines for habitat restoration would become unlikely.
We need to keep MBTA as it was prior to 2017 – protecting birds from massive “incidental” take and maintaining liability for devastation of bird habitat. At a time when we’ve lost 3 billion North American birds since 1970 and climate change threatens extinction for up to 2/3 of bird species, it’s the least we can do.
The MBTA Environmental Impact Statement provides two choices: Alternative A “exclude incidental take” (free pass when industrial activity kills birds “incidentally”) or Alternative B (“define the scope of the MBTA to include incidental take”) Here the devil will be in the details of the regulations made.
Bills such as H.R. 5552 could mitigate potential harm to birds inherent in redefining MBTA, but that option would be up to our legislators and president. Not likely in the current political situation.
The main message is – establish regulations that protect birds. They are precious and irreplaceable.
The window for public comment is open until July 20 at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090-8411
Kathy Kascewicz of Fifield
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