California bill protects birds after Trump rollback of federal law

Yellow-billed Magpie is endemic to California. Photo by Joan Tisdale

The California Senate passed a bill yesterday that strengthens the state’s protections for migratory birds beyond those specified under federal law. The bill, now awaiting the signature of Governor Gavin Newsom, is a response to the Trump administration’s rollback of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

In December 2017, Trump’s Interior Department issued a guidance saying that it would no longer interpret the MBTA to prohibit the “incidental take” of birds; that is, birds killed unintentionally but avoidably during otherwise legal industrial, commercial, agricultural or other activity.

The newly passed bill, Assembly Bill 454, changes sections of California statues that may defer to the MBTA on the incidental killing of birds and makes it clear that the incidental but avoidable killing of native birds is still against state law. The National Audubon Society endorsed the measure.

 “This move by the State of California is an example for other states seeking avenues to protect migratory birds until the federal government again lives up to its historic and legal obligations,” said Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president for conservation policy at National Audubon Society. “As the world’s fifth-largest economy, California’s business community will naturally need to be a partner in any effort to protect the state’s beloved bird species. This bill preserves the framework that makes that possible.”

Sarah Rose, executive director of Audubon California, added: “California is taking a vital step toward filling the role that should fall to the federal government in safeguarding our migratory bird species. The Trump administration guidance neutralizes the MBTA as both a carrot and a stick. Not only does it shield anyone damaging the environment from having to pay for it, but it removes the incentive for developing technologies that are less harmful to birds and their habitats. We call on Governor Newsom to sign this quickly.”

Birds win with sweeping new public-lands bill

How the Migratory Bird Treaty Act could finally become an effective tool for conserving birds

Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free