By Christina Tarr

First enacted in 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) makes it a crime to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill,” possess, sell, purchase, or ship any migratory bird or any part, nest or egg of a migratory bird unless authorized by regulation. More than a thousand bird species are currently protected under the statute. It has saved many species of birds, including the snowy egret, from extinction.

The MBTA provides industry with incentive to adopt simple practices that save birds’ lives, such as covering oil waste pits, and it gives government the ability to enforce accountability and recovery after events that kill large numbers of birds. After the Gulf oil spill killed one million birds, for instance, MBTA enforcement was responsible for BP paying $100 million to restore habitat. Read more about the history of the Act here.

But now Republican-introduced legislation in Congress (HR 4239) and a new interpretation of the MBTA by the Department of the Interior could end the Act’s effectiveness in holding industries accountable for bird deaths by removing its authority to prohibit “incidental take.” These proposals would prevent enforcement of “incidental” bird deaths, thus removing incentive for good practices and eliminating penalties for industry practices that kill birds. You can read the Interior Department’s Memorandum M- 37050, “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act Does Not Prohibit Incidental Take” here.

Of local interest is our own Lake Merritt, declared a National Wildlife Refuge in 1869 (the oldest in the United States), and an important stop for migratory birds on the Pacific flyway. Click here to see the migratory and resident birds you can find at Lake Merritt.

Please call your members of Congress and tell them to uphold the MBTA and its current provisions:

Also, contact the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, at feedback@ios.doi.gov

What to say:

Please defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, including the Act’s ability to address the incidental take of birds. The MBTA has saved many species of birds from extinction for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Proposals like HR 4239 and the new interpretation by the Department of the Interior would threaten the MBTA’s ability to protect birds and prevent collateral environmental damage. Please defend against attacks on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

For more information, check out the National Audubon Society’s Action Center’s talking points.

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

Photo of egret in Lake Merritt by Heidi Rand

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