The Trump administration moved forward on Friday in removing long-standing federal protection for the country’s birds, despite objections from former federal officials and many scientists that billions of birds are more likely to perish as a result.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service published its opinion on the proposed rollback in the Federal Register. It’s a final step that means the change, which greatly limits federal authority to prosecute industries for practices that kill migratory birds, could be made official within 30 days.
The wildlife service acknowledged in its findings that the reversal would have a negative effect on the many bird species covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, ranging from hawks and eagles to seabirds, storks, songbirds, and sparrows. .
The measure reduces federal judicial authority over the deadly threats facing the industry’s migratory birds, from electrocution on power lines to wind turbines knocking them down and oil field waste pits where landing birds die in toxic waters.
The industry’s operations kill between 450 million and 1.1 billion birds annually, out of approximately 7 billion birds in North America, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and recent studies.
The Trump administration maintains that the law should apply only to intentionally killed or damaged birds and is putting that change in regulation. The change “would improve consistency and efficiency in enforcement,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said.
The administration has continued to push for the regulation of migratory birds even after a federal judge in New York in August rejected the administration’s legal basis.
Two days after news organizations announced the defeat of President Donald Trump by Democrat Joe Biden, federal officials advanced changes to the bird treaty to the White House, one of the final steps before adoption.
Trump was “in a frenzy to end his policy of killing birds,” David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society, said in a statement Friday. “Reestablishing this fundamental 100-year law must be a top conservation priority for the Biden-Harris administration” and Congress.
Steve Holmer of the American Bird Conservancy said the change would accelerate the decline in the population of birds that have swept North America since the 1970s.
How the 1918 treaty is enforced has wide ramifications for the construction of commercial buildings, electrical transmission systems and other infrastructure, said Rachel Jones, vice president of the National Manufacturers Association.
Jones said the changes under Trump would be necessary to make sure the bird law was not used “abusively.” That’s a long-standing complaint from industry attorneys despite the argument by federal officials that they only bring criminal charges on rare occasions.
It’s part of a series of last-minute changes under the outgoing administration that benefit the industry. Others would expand drilling in the Arctic, favor development over habitat protection for endangered species, and possibly cripple future regulation of environmental and public health threats, among other setbacks.