When It’s Migratory Birds vs. the Trump Administration, the Birds Die

January 22, 2020 | 9:11 am
Photo: Robert_C/Pixabay
Maria Caffrey
Former Contributor

When you think of the word “America” I’m sure that conjures a great many images to you. Perhaps you think of our red, white, and blue flag, or maybe the Statue of Liberty. I’m guessing that a great many might also think of America’s iconic bird, the bald eagle. Now the bald eagle is one of hundreds of species of migratory birds under threat from this administration.

Our avifauna (or “birds” as they’re known on the street) are already contending with the impact of climate change, loss of habitat, and the impact of pesticides, and now they must deal with the rollback of vital protections as well.

In particular, a recent article by the New York Times sheds light on the consequences of a 2018 “clarification” of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which has allowed industry to ignore how their actions could accidentally kill birds.

By reinterpreting the MBTA, the administration is giving industry a free pass on any responsibility for bird deaths that their activities and projects may “incidentally” cause, whereas in the past they were required to consider alternatives to limit any potential damage.

We need stronger, not weaker interpretations of the MBTA.

Punished for caring 

So what does incidental bird death look like? And how is industry—especially the fossil fuel industry—responding? Consider this poignant example from Dominion Energy’s wastewater ponds in Wyoming, where Adam Roich was employed as an oilfield worker. He was fired the week before Christmas for rescuing birds that had landed in the wastewater ponds and gotten covered in an oily residue that prevented them from flying away.

By his estimation he netted, washed, and released more than 50 birds that would have been incidentally killed by the ponds. Dominion Energy said they were following “Migratory Bird Treaty Act-related regulations, which forbid our employees from retrieving the fowl.”

Adam says he was one of many Dominion Energy employees who worked for years to save the birds that would have otherwise died. He’s quoted by WyoFile as saying “I only did what I thought was right.”

He is an example of how a company like Dominion Energy could take minor measures to protect migratory birds that they can now write off as the cost of doing business.

Doing what’s right

One ray of hope is that earlier this month Rep. Lowenthal introduced H.R.5552 in an attempt to thwart this bird-killing attempt to cut costs for industry.

While we don’t yet know the full extent of how this rule change will damage migratory bird populations, we do have clear anecdotal evidence and individual examples, and this is something we need to continue to monitor. That’s why I am supporting H.R.5552—because I believe that industry should be doing everything it can to limit their ecological and environmental impacts, including the welfare of our migratory bird friends.

It’s clear that this reinterpretation of the MBTA is not occurring merely by chance without intention or calculation. So perhaps next time you think of America’s future you should ask yourself whether it should include fewer birds in the sky? Personally, I don’t see damage to our ecological legacy as a minor consequence.

Incidentally…if you’re enjoying my blog I urge you to please consider making a donation to UCS. They were an invaluable resource for me when I decided to speak out and they are still a resource as I continue to help others within government trying to do what’s right by speaking out about attacks on science. You are an essential part of fighting for a better environmental future.