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Biden administration reverses Trump rule on bird law

bird law
A Brown Pelican in mid-dive at Bolsa Chica, California. Photo by Sandrine Biziaux-Scherson

Like many other federal environmental laws and regulations, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was on life support when Donald Trump left office. Now, less than seven weeks into the start of the Biden administration, the nation’s most important law protecting birds is, in a manner of speaking, recovering.

In early February, the Biden team hit pause on a last-minute Trump rule about the law, and today, it said it is revoking the change Trump’s Interior Department made to the law in late 2017.

“Today the Interior Department rescinded the M-opinion on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act ​​that overturn​ed decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity,” a spokesperson for the Interior Department said. “​The reasoning and basis behind that M-Opinion were soundly rejected in federal court. In the coming days, Interior will issue a proposed rule to revoke the corresponding rule that is going into effect today. The Department will also reconsider its interpretation of the MBTA to develop common sense standards that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry.” 

The so-called M-opinion was a Trump rule that said the law did not apply to accidental or incidental harm to birds, despite 100 years of precedent saying otherwise.

The public will also be invited to comment on revoking a similar rule undermining the MBTA and advancing practices that can reduce bird mortality.

Conservation groups that sued the Trump administration over the changes — and won — are happy with the Biden plan.

“Millions of birds were at risk of unnecessary death from a Trump-era rule, but the Biden administration has made a better choice,” said Renee Stone, senior vice president for conservation programs and general counsel, Defenders of Wildlife. “We look forward to working with the Biden administration to protect the 100-year-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act and America’s migratory birds.”

“Migratory birds will greatly benefit from today’s decision,” adds Steve Holmer, vice president of policy at American Bird Conservancy. “We’ve seen great progress by telecommunications companies, as well as the energy transmission and production industries, to find ways to reduce incidental bird mortality. We appreciate the opportunity to comment in support of making these established best-management practices into standard practices.”

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