Green groups sue Interior over bird protection rollback

Green groups sue Interior over bird protection rollback
© U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Conservation groups sued the Interior Department Thursday to overturn a policy that holds “incidental” killings of certain birds are not illegal.

Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society and others say that the Trump administration’s interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act contradicts decades of enforcement by Interior — and the law itself.

“The Trump administration’s meddling with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act threatens to reverse decades of progress to conserve birds that are essential to ecosystems, economies and our enjoyment of nature,” Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark said in a statement.

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“On the centennial of this important law, we will do everything we can to protect migratory birds that are defenseless against the reckless actions taken by this administration,” she said.

“This rule will allow the death of even more birds, whether they're landing on polluted ponds left uncovered by the oil and gas industry or have their nest trees cut down from underneath them. It's tragic,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

In the December memo, Daniel Jorjani, Interior’s principal deputy assistant solicitor, said that an Obama administration policy on the bird law was incorrect.

“Interpreting the MBTA to apply to incidental or accidental actions hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive actions, threatening up to six months in jail and a $15,000 penalty for each and every bird injured or killed,” Jorjani wrote.

The policy means that wind energy companies, oil refiners and others won’t be held liable for bird deaths that were not deliberate.

The green groups filed their lawsuit in the District Court for the Southern District New York.