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Conservationists: Trump Rule Puts Birds in Danger

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Conservationists say a new rule change will result in countless avoidable bird deaths. (Vadym/Adobe Stock)
Conservationists say a new rule change will result in countless avoidable bird deaths. (Vadym/Adobe Stock)
January 7, 2021

NEW YORK -- Conservationists hope to overturn a last-minute rule change by the outgoing Trump administration they say drastically undermines protections for migratory birds.

The final rule, announced Tuesday, would change enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

It would shield the oil and gas industry and other corporations from liability for acts that kill large numbers of birds, such as oil spills or open toxic waste pits, if killing birds wasn't the purpose of the action.

Mike Leahy, director of wildlife hunting and fishing policy for the National Wildlife Federation, is confident the rule will be overturned.

"We're involved in a lawsuit against the rule and the courts have already weighed in and said the rule is essentially clearly illegal," Leahy explained. "They just haven't had a chance to rule on the final rule yet."

Supporters of the rule change say it simply reaffirms the original meaning of the Act by protecting companies from prosecution for accidentally killing birds.

But Leahy contended Congress was very clear when it passed the Act in 1918 that it was not simply protecting birds only from intentional killing.

"Congress intended it to give protection against all harms and loss of life of birds, and it set up a very clear process for addressing unintentional or small impacts," Leahy asserted.

He said oil spills, waste pits and power lines kill millions of birds every year, and the rule change would remove incentives for companies to protect birds from harm.

Leahy noted President-elect Joe Biden is also likely to reverse the changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act rule after he is sworn into office later this month.

"We are hopeful that the incoming administration will establish a permitting process to address this problem and reinstate the protections written into the Migratory Bird Treaty Act against all loss of life of birds," Leahy concluded.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, and Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY