Migratory Bird Protection Act clears House Committee

By Laura Bies

The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is one of hundreds of native bird species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. ©Ken Slade/USFWS

The House Natural Resources Committee approved the Migratory Bird Protection Act of 2020 (H.R. 5552), which would reverse the Trump administration’s recent interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The bill, which garnered nearly two dozen original bipartisan co-sponsors, and was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Cal.), will apply to incidental, unintentional take of migratory birds.

The Wildlife Society, along with over 100 other organizations, signed a letter to committee leadership, urging swift passage of the legislation. “The Migratory Bird Protection Act presents a major opportunity to secure bird protections and safeguard the law,” the letter read. “The bill reaffirms longstanding protections for birds from industrial hazards, which until this administration had been applied consistently for decades. In doing so, it will ensure that there continues to be incentives to implement best management practices and technologies, and retain the ability to generate resources under the law to recover from incidents such as oil spills that impact birds.”

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects over 1,000 migratory bird species across the United States by making it illegal to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter or offer for sale, purchase or barter, any migratory bird (or part of one), or a migratory bird nest or egg, without a valid permit. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defines “take” as to “pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or attempt to pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect.”

In December 2017, the Department of the Interior’s Solicitor issued a legal option concluding that the law only covered intentional take of birds. For decades, the bill had been applied to both intentional and incidental take. The Wildlife Society expressed concern over the change in a letter to then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “This new interpretation will have negative consequences for conservation and limit the ability of wildlife professionals to work alongside businesses to manage and conserve migratory birds,” the letter said.

The Migratory Bird Protection Act of 2020 will ensure that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies to the incidental take of all migratory birds protected by the law. The bill also requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consult with industry officials on permits that allow incidental take to avoid negligence. It encourages the use of best practices to minimize bird deaths. Finally, it implements a mitigation fee to be imposed on unavoidable impacts on birds, which will fund other bird conservation programs.

A similar bill was released for discussion last year, but not formally introduced in Congress. The Migratory Bird Protection Act of 2020 now goes to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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