Trump Administration, in Parting Gift to Industry, Reverses Bird Protections

Trump Administration, in Parting Gift to Industry, Reverses Bird Protections

Trump Administration, in Parting Gift to Industry, Reverses Bird Protections

Trump Administration, in Parting Gift to Industry, Reverses Bird Protections

Accidentally killing birds is rarely prosecuted under the law, but there have been notable exceptions, like when the Obama administration prosecuted seven oil companies in North Dakota for the deaths of 28 birds.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was also part of the basis for a $100 million settlement with BP for the deaths of more than one million birds in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. And, in 2009, Exxon Mobil paid $600,000 after pleading guilty in the deaths of protected owls, raptors and waterfowl that died in uncovered natural gas pits, oil tanks and wastewater facilities.

Activists said that just the possibility of penalties has helped push industry to take precautions to prevent bird deaths. By announcing that protected birds can be legally killed as long as killing birds isn’t the goal, some said, they worried that the federal government would effectively be removing incentives for companies to take measures to protect birds.

In fact, the Trump administration recently acknowledged as much. An environmental-impact statement issued in late November by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service said that without the inducement of law, industry could be expected to scale back on voluntary bird protections.

Sarah Greenberger, vice president of conservation at the Audubon Society, noted that the Trump administration’s move came just as the organization’s 121st annual bird census, known as the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, was underway. In 2019, she said, despite record participation, 6 million fewer birds were counted.

“While we don’t yet know exactly what caused this decrease, it comes amid new science showing alarming trends in bird declines, like the loss of 3 billion birds in North America since 1970,” she said.

Mr. Glitzenstein said his group and others were planning to challenge the rule in court even as they push the incoming Biden administration to reverse course. A federal judge in August rejected the Trump administration’s legal rationale for the regulation.


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