by Lewis Young, Conservation Committee
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is under attack and needs our support. In December 2017, the Trump administration issued a controversial legal opinion providing an interpretation that the law does not apply to the incidental or accidental deaths of migratory birds and in Congress, H.R. 4239—The Secure American Energy Act—would change the law to cement this interpretation. These changes would represent the most significant roll back of the MBTA in its 100-year history. It would dramatically reduce the incentive for industries to implement best practices that save birds, and would limit the accountability and recovery from events and activities that kill substantial numbers of birds.
In Montana, some examples would be: Snow Geese will be free to die in the Berkeley Pit, uncovered oil pits can kill birds, oil spills like in the Yellowstone River can kill birds, and wind farms can kill as many birds as they want…all with no repercussions. On a national scale for example, the responsible party for another oil spill like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill would not be held responsible for bird deaths and damage. The BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill killed more than one million birds, and led to BP pleading guilty to violations of the MBTA and paying $100 million to recover damages to birds impacted by the spill.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) enacted in 1918 implements treaties signed with Canada, Mexico, Japan and Russia, and protects more than 1000 species, most of which aren’t covered by other laws, while still allowing for regulation of hunting. The treaties and legislation aimed to protect a variety of birds that provide value to the country, including waterfowl and wading birds that were overhunted in the early 20th century, but also insectivorous and pollinating birds, such as hummingbirds, orioles, and woodpeckers, which help reduce agricultural pests and pollinate crops.
The MBTA has effectively protected birds in the decades since its passage, and is still needed now as much as ever. Birds face numerous modern-day threats. Impacts can often be avoided or minimized with basic precautions and best management practices, such as covering oil waste pits, flagging transmission lines, and following wind energy guidelines. MBTA protections have incentivized proactive conservation to help bird populations and limited the need for further protections under the Endangered Species Act.
The MBTA is now under serious threat and we strongly urge you to defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act — one of our nation’s oldest and most important wildlife conservation laws. In particular, we urge you to oppose any effort that undermines the ability to address the incidental take of birds under the MBTA. Please take action and tell Congress and the Administration to fight for migratory birds and oppose changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
President Donald Trump
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
U.S. Senator Steve Daines
U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte