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Feds Could Make Life Tougher for Feathered Friends

The White House moved on Thursday to remove penalties for companies whose activities accidentally kill birds, including for oil spills. (Wikimedia)
The White House moved on Thursday to remove penalties for companies whose activities accidentally kill birds, including for oil spills. (Wikimedia)
January 31, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. - Conservation groups say they'll fight the Trump administration's move to revise the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The Interior Department wants to change the law so it will no longer hold energy companies and other industries accountable if they accidentally kill birds.

According to Bob Dreher, senior vice president with the group Defenders of Wildlife, the change would mean even if an industrial disaster - like a major oil spill - occurs, the company wouldn't be fined, despite widespread destruction to birds and the ecosystem.

Dreher says the current law provides incentives for companies that take precautions not to kill birds.

"All of that incentive is taken away now by this approach, because companies no longer face any risk of liability," says Dreher. "And they have no incentive, therefore, to even talk with Fish and Wildlife Service abut how they can avoid the needless killing of migratory birds."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the change is needed so that industries won't fear prosecution if birds are incidentally killed - and they're counting on companies to protect birds voluntarily.

But conservationists say gutting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act could lead to more bird extinctions.

Virginia officials last month chose not to protect a nesting habitat for the state's largest seabird colony while building a new tunnel near the Chesapeake Bay. According to Catherine Kilduff, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Trump administration encouraged the move.

In that case, she says, 25,000 birds lost their 40-year-old nesting site.

"We know that in North America alone, two-thirds of bird species are at risk of vanishing," says Kilduff. "And we're in the middle of an extinction crisis."

North America has lost three billion birds since 1970 to habitat loss and other problems, according to a recent study in the journal, "Science." That includes about one-third of coastal shorebirds.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard/Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA