Your Voice Needed to Protect the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Today we ask you to speak up for our country’s premier bird protection law, now threatened as the Trump Administration works hand in hand with bird-killing industries to dismantle it, leaving millions of birds at risk.

A Golden Eagle flies in front of a large rocky cliff face.
Golden Eagle, photo by Scott Carpenter

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is one of the United States’ oldest environmental laws and provides protection for more than 1,000 species of North American birds. For more than a century, the MBTA has given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) the ability to prosecute industries for “incidental take” where they cause harm to protected birds through their activities. It is this ability that has allowed USFWS to force utilities to retrofit power lines to prevent the electrocution of eagles and other raptors, to address toxic chemicals that poison birds, and to go after oil companies for oil spills that kill wild birds. Under the new rule, these companies could kill wild birds with indifference and impunity. Decades of effort to reduce industry threats to birds would be reversed and emerging threats would  not be addressed.

This change represents a fundamental threat to wild bird populations, which are already under tremendous pressure. If the Trump Administration’s new regulations go into effect, industrial interests will be allowed to develop, poison, pollute, and create other threats with complete disregard to their effects on birds. According to the USFWS’s own analysis, this new rule would likely result in negative impacts to birds and other wildlife resources as well as result in a reduction in industry best practices and industry standards related to bird protection. 

Take Action

Please submit comments to the USFWS today and urge them to:

1: Reject Alternative A which weakens the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

  1. Select Alternative B which restores USFWS’s ability to enforce the longstanding law that protects against incidental take

You can use or modify the sample letter below or write your own comments. Comments on the proposed new rule are due by July 20, 2020:

Submit Comments

Sample Letter

Dear US Fish and Wildlife Service,

I am writing to comment on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) DEIS regarding “Regulations Governing the Take of Migratory Birds.” I strongly urge you to reject that preferred Action Alternative A which would eliminate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s (MBTA) prohibition on incidental take and instead select Action Alternative B which would ensure the USFWS’s ability to enforce in situations involving the incidental killing of protected bird species. 

Since 1918, the MBTA has been the United States’ primary bird protection law. Today, the law protects more than 1,000 species of birds in the United States. The strength of the MBTA lies in its provisions which prohibit both direct and incidental take of protected species. The direct take prohibition has allowed the federal government to prosecute intentional acts such as the shooting of birds of prey, while the incidental take prohibition has allowed the government to go after industries that kill large numbers of birds through their activities. It is the incidental take provision that has allowed the federal government for example, to force power companies to retrofit power lines that electrocute birds of prey, close down open oil pits that attract birds, force wind companies to site their wind farms outside of high use bird areas, prosecute irresponsible use of poisons, and hold companies like BP accountable after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill killed more than a million birds.

The preferred Action Alternative A would allow industry to kill birds with impunity. It would remove critically important protections for birds that have been in place for more than a century. It comes at a time when wild birds need protection more than ever. A recent report from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Decline of North American Avifauna, indicates that bird populations across the United States, including both common and rare species, have declined by more than 3 billion birds over the last 50 years. An additional report from the National Bird Alliance of Oregon Society, Survival by Degrees places as many as a two-thirds of North American bird species at risk of extinction over the next century if temperatures increase by 3 degrees Celsius. This is a time when we need to be doing everything possible to protect our wild birds. Alternative A takes us in exactly the wrong direction.

Wild birds play a critical role in supporting natural and agricultural systems through pollination, seed dispersal and pest control. Bird watching is a major economic driver supporting local and national economies. Birds are an integral part of the web of life. The proposed rule to eliminate the prohibition on incidental take would significantly increase threats to wild birds and allow industrial interests to act with indifference and impunity when it comes to the welfare of wild birds. The proposed rule is contrary to the international treaties that underpin the MBTA, the intent of the MBTA, 100 years of precedent, and the basic mission of the USFWS. It will mean that more bird species will move toward extinction.  I am deeply troubled by this proposed rule and the fact that the USFWS has worked hand in hand with some of the industries that represent the greatest threat to wild birds to weaken the MBTA.

The Services own analysis in the DEIS shows that Action Alternative A will likely result in negative impacts to wild birds, other biological resources, ecosystem services and cultural resources and a reduction in industry standards and best practices. It is stunning that at a time when birds are facing unprecedented peril,that USFWS would consider reversing 100 years of precedent in a way that it recognizes will harm native birds. 

I strongly urge the USFWS to respect and honor its core mission to protect the United States’ wildlife by rejecting Action Alternative A and selecting Action Alternative B.