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Bill would strengthen Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Migratory Bird Treaty Act
White-eyed Vireo. Photo by Steve Ricketts

A newly introduced bill in Congress would strengthen the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the law that Donald Trump’s administration gutted to allow companies and developers to kill birds without the consequences they faced under previous administrations.

The sponsors of the bill, Congressmen Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), say the Migratory Bird Protection Act would reaffirm long-standing protections for migratory birds against industrial take, or the unintentional but predictable killing of birds.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of our nation’s first conservation laws, was enacted to implement the United States’ international treaty commitments to protect populations of migratory birds. The Trump administration finalized a regulation that cancelled protections for migratory birds by declaring that the law no longer protects birds from unconstrained incidental take by oil and gas developers and other industries.

“The MBTA has been a critical tool for bird conservation for over 100 years,” said Lowenthal. “Democratic and Republican presidential administrations since the 1970s have interpreted and applied the law in a similar way, which has saved countless numbers of birds. Our Migratory Bird Protection Act would prevent future federal executive action that may apply a flawed interpretation to the MBTA, and once and for all reaffirm and formalize all of the MBTA protections. We must prevent future reinterpretations that might let commercial interests off the hook when it comes to killing birds.”


“We must take the necessary steps to protect and conserve migratory bird populations,” said Fitzpatrick. “We must ensure that longstanding protections for birds are fully maintained while providing greater regulatory certainty. I am proud to join Rep. Lowenthal in introducing the bipartisan Migratory Bird Protection Act, which takes important steps to protect millions of migratory birds.”

A press release from several conservation groups says that the “Migratory Bird Protection Act ensures durable protections for migratory birds from industrial activities and provides regulatory certainty to responsible developers in managing incidental take, so long as they follow best management practices to avoid bird deaths. This important and reasonable approach gives industry clear and consistent expectations for protecting birds without jeopardizing our international commitments and conservation legacy.”

“Birds have inherent value and are an economic driver along with providing essential services necessary to people, from natural pest control to crop pollination,” said Jennifer Cipolletti, director of conservation advocacy for American Bird Conservancy. “This Act provides the certainty industry needs while also ensuring birds receive the protections they deserve.”


“Our beloved birds need our care and protection more than ever,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Habitat loss and climate change are accelerating rapidly, so it’s urgent that Congress pass this bill and give birds a fighting chance at survival.”

It’s worth noting that the new bill isn’t yet listed on the website, so it’s unclear when legislators will consider it.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and You can reach him at [email protected].

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