Migratory Bird Treaty Act sees new interpretation

©Hans Hillewaert

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits the attempted or actual pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing or collecting of over 800 species of migratory birds, has just been reinterpreted by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s top legal official.

In late December, Principal Deputy Solicitor Daniel Jorjani released a memorandum stating that the acts prohibited under MBTA are only prohibited if done so intentionally; the accidental taking or harming of a species does not apply. This is a different legal opinion than previous administrations held, and it reverses a memorandum released just one year ago by DOI’s then-Solicitor General Hilary Tompkins, stating that MBTA’s language covers both intentional and incidental violations.

In early January, former top DOI officials from both parties spanning back to the Nixon Administration sent a letter to the department and Congress condemning the new legal interpretation, stating in part that “the MBTA can and has been 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. Your new interpretation needlessly undermines a history of great progress, undermines the effectiveness of the migratory bird treaties, and diminishes U.S. leadership.”

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