The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (“MBTA”) is one of the oldest and most successful conservation laws in the United States. Enacted in 1918, this law was one of The National Audubon Society’s first major victories. It immediately helped the Snowy Egret that was being hunted to extinction for its feathers. The law also saved the Wood Duck, Sandhill Crane, and White Pelican from extinction. Over one thousand bird species are protected from man-made intentional and preventable harm.
HR 4239 currently in Congress interprets the law differently than all other Democratic and Republican administrations have for one hundred years. Bird deaths such as those caused by large oil spills, oil waste pits, and poorly-placed communications towers and transmission lines would be labelled as “incidental” and outside the scope of enforcement of the MBTA. Companies would no longer be incentivized to reduce the impact their industry has on migratory bird deaths. Only “purposeful takes” such as hunting a Sandhill Crane or deliberately destroying the eggs of a Cerulean Warbler could be prosecuted.
How might this impact bird populations? The National Audubon Society says:
“[…] power lines kill up to 64 million birds a year. Communications towers are estimated to kill up to 7 million birds per year, and uncovered oil waste pits account for up to another 500,000 to 1 million bird deaths every year. Data on wind turbines are harder to come by, but current estimates are approximately 234,000 bird deaths a year.”
Keep in mind that these deaths are with the MBTA protections in place. Imagine how those numbers could grow if this tool of accountability disappears. If Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon oil spills occurred after the proposed “reinterpretation” of the MBTA, Exxon and BP would not be held liable for bird deaths.
Again and again, we have seen that what is good for birds is also good for human beings. Birds are our barometer of environmental health and a critical part of the biodiversity that keeps our own species alive and thriving. In the immediacy, though, what are the risks to human beings if companies no longer exercise care and consideration for migratory birds? Would potential construction and safety shortcuts or changes in industry protocol increase the possibility of accidents or dangerous designs or actions? It may be that the MBTA directly protects us more than we realize.
The National Audubon Society offers a FastAction link to make voicing support for the MBTA more convenient. The National Wildlife Federation also offers a quick and convenient way for you to voice your support for the law. Migratory birds and your fellow human beings need your help!