Former Interior officials criticize Trump admin policy on bird killings

Former Interior officials criticize Trump admin policy on bird killings
© U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A group of former Interior Department officials going back to the Nixon administration say the Trump administration’s policy of forgiving certain “incidental” bird killings is wrong.

In a letter sent Thursday to Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWatchdog: First lady spokeswoman may have violated Hatch Act with ‘MAGA’ tweet Lawmakers aim to use spending bill to block offshore drilling Overnight Energy: House to vote on anti-carbon tax measure | Dem says EPA obstructed 'politically charged' FOIA requests | GOP looks to overhaul endangered species law MORE, the 17 former high-ranking officials say the new interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is “contrary to the long-standing interpretation by every administration (Republican and Democrat) since at least the 1970’s.”

“This is a new, contrived legal standard that creates a huge loophole in the MBTA, allowing companies to engage in activities that routinely kill migratory birds so long as they were not intending that their operations would 'render an animal subject to human control,'" they wrote.

ADVERTISEMENT

The letter is in response to a legal opinion released Dec. 22 by Interior’s Acting Solicitor Daniel Jorjani.

The opinion said that the administration will enforce the 1918 law in a way that forgives “incidental” or accidental killings of the 1,000 or so birds covered while focusing enforcement actions on deliberate killings.

The new policy was cheered by energy companies that believed the Obama administration policy was overly burdensome.

“This opinion makes clear that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act should not be used for overzealous enforcement of criminal penalties on those engaging in otherwise lawful activities,” Erik Milito, director of upstream operations at the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement after the December ruling.

The December ruling was a reversal from an opinion released in the final days of the Obama administration.

“We recognize that, at the margin, reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which prosecutions under the MBTA are appropriate for activities that are not intended to kill birds, but which are reasonably likely, and indeed, quite likely to kill them,” the former officials wrote.

“That is why, over the course of our collective careers, significant progress has been made in defining the limits of this law through refined interpretations, court decisions, and common sense.”

The 17 signers of the letter to Zinke include nearly all of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s chiefs for migratory bird management stretching back to 1972.