Energy & Environment

Trump administration proceeds with rollback of bird protections despite objections of scientists, environmentalists

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The Trump administration on Friday advanced its plans to cut federal protections that critics argue will be severely detrimental to the U.S. bird population. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday released its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed change to the implementation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) that would no longer penalize companies for actions that, incidentally or accidentally, kill migratory birds.  

The act was passed to prevent the unregulated killing of or other harm to migratory birds.

Under the proposed change, the government would no longer penalize companies for incidents in which birds may be killed such as electrocution on power lines, wind turbines that knock them from the air and oil field waste pits where landing birds can die in toxic water.

The environmental impact statement acknowledged that more birds may be killed under its proposal because companies may not take steps to protect birds if they won’t face penalties for accidentally killing them.

The analysis found that the change will likely negatively impact migratory birds for this reason, and will also likely harm ecosystems and other habitats as well as cultural resources like native religious traditions.

Some industries stand to benefit, as the analysis found its proposed change may reduce costs for companies as they decide not to take steps to reduce migratory bird deaths.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service and recent studies, industry operations kill an estimated 450 million to 1.1 billion birds annually, out of approximately 7 billion birds in North America. 

A federal judge in New York in August rejected a 2017 legal opinion justifying the proposed change, although the agency has pushed forward with the change, regardless. 

According to The Associated Press, federal officials advanced the bird treaty changes to the White House, one of the final steps before adoption, just two days after President-elect Joe Biden was projected the winner of the 2020 election.  

David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society, said in a statement Friday that Trump was “in a frenzy to finalize his bird-killer policy.” 

Yarnold also that his group will continue to fight the changes in court, adding that “reinstating this 100-year-old bedrock law must be a top conservation priority for the Biden-Harris Administration” and Congress.

The proposed change is the latest in a series of acts by the Trump administration to take actions that benefit industry at the environment’s expense  before Biden takes office in January, including taking steps to advance Arctic drilling.

–Updated on Nov. 30 at 10:58 p.m.

Tags birds Congress Department of the Interior environmental impact Joe Biden Migratory Bird Treaty Act The Associated Press Trump Administration U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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