Former Interior officials ask department to abandon plans to reduce bird protections

Former Interior officials ask department to abandon plans to reduce bird protections
© David McNew/Getty Images

A coalition of former Interior Department officials is asking the department to back away from plans to dramatically reduce protections for birds.

The Trump administration is expected to finalize a proposal in the coming weeks that would punish the oil and gas industry, construction companies and others only if their work intentionally kills birds, ending the practice of punishing companies that “incidentally” kill birds.

“The Department’s decision is particularly misguided considering the devastating findings of a new study published in Science, revealing that nearly 3 billion birds have disappeared from North America over the past half-century,” the former officials, who spanned Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote in the letter. “This alarming decline is the equivalent of losing more than one in four birds in less than a single lifetime.”

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If finalized, the administration’s actions would limit the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) that has been in place since 1918 and that currently protects about 1,000 kinds of birds. 

The former officials credited the law as being “successfully used to reduce gross negligence by companies that simply do not recognize the value of birds to society or the practical means to minimize harm.”

The Department of the Interior did not immediately respond to request for comment but has said in the past that the punishments under the law are too severe.

“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,” Daniel Jorjani, Interior’s solicitor, wrote when the proposal was first drafted.