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New Bill Would Rectify Decision to Reduce Protections for America’s Migratory Birds

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Trump administration’s 2018 decision to reduce protections offered through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act went against decades of commonsense strategies to improve bird conservation. One result is today’s introduction of the Migratory Bird Protection Act by Representative Lowenthal (D-Calif.), House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and six other bipartisan cosponsors, which supplements the protections for migratory birds that were lost through the Department of Interior’s arguably illegal interpretation of a highly successful, century-old law.

“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of the most successful laws enacted to help protect our nation’s birds, but it has been weakened by recent misinterpretations of the law at the Department of the Interior,” said Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “It is imperative that we safeguard protections against significant losses of birds even when not deliberate, and the Migratory Bird Protection Act does just that. There is no sense in poking holes in a century-old, proven method of success when one-third of America’s wildlife is at increased risk of extinction. 

“We commend Rep. Lowenthal for taking this crucial step to ensure species like sandhill cranes and snowy egrets are around for generations to come.”

Under the Trump administration’s new interpretation of the law, incidental take of birds will no longer be a punishable offense. In 2018, the National Wildlife Federation, along with a coalition of environmental groups, jointly sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the decision, arguing that this interpretation of the bedrock law is illegal.

Today’s bill includes provisions to reaffirm the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s original aim to protect migratory birds from all types of harm. The bill ensures clarity to companies in managing incidental take, so long as they follow best management practices to avoid bird deaths. This approach gives industry reasonable expectations for protecting birds while upholding international commitments and staying true to our nation’s conservation legacy. 

Birds and birdwatching offer a significant contribution to the $887 billion U.S. outdoor recreation economy. A 2011 national survey found that bird watchers spend nearly $41 billion annually on trips and equipment. The survey also found that 666,000 jobs were created as a result of birdwatching expenditures, and communities benefited from the $14.9 billion that birdwatchers spent on food, lodging and transportation. Without crucial protections against intentional and incidental but significant harms, our country’s world-famous birding spots like Cape May, Magee Marsh and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge could lose some of the avian fauna that draw millions of bird enthusiasts every year.

 

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