The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act has protected more than 100 species of North American birds for more than 100 years.
That’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Not for everyone, apparently. Business and industry lobbyists have been trying to get it weakened for years, and now comes news that they might just succeed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at the behest of Trump administration officials, has put forth a proposal that might let slews of potential violators kill vast numbers of birds and walk away scot-free.
The law, as originally written, allowed violators to be penalized even if they didn’t intend to break it. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, for example, British Petroleum was fined $100 million for causing the deaths of as many as 1 million birds protected under the act.
Whether people like Big Oil or not, I’m sure they’ll acknowledge that BP didn’t intend to have an offshore oil rig explode and sink, kill 11 members of its crew, and trigger the single biggest oil spill ever to occur in U.S. waters.
That said, many if not most of those people would agree that the penalties levied against the company were justified.
Under the proposed change, however, the company’s lack of intent could have allowed it to escape liability simply by saying, “Oops. We didn’t mean for that to happen.”
Maybe I’m short-sighted, but I don’t see that any good would come from such a change, and I believe it would open the door to a whole lot of bad.
Consider the following statistics, all drawn from the FWS’ proposal:
Chemical poisoning kills an estimated 72 million birds a year. Collisions with electrical lines kill an estimated 25.5 million. Collisions with communication towers kill an estimated 5.6 million. Oil pits kill an estimated 750,000. Collisions with wind turbines kill an estimated 234,000.
That’s more than 104 million birds. To be fair, that number — 104 million — pales next to the 2.4 billion birds killed each year by domestic cats and the 599 million killed from collisions with window glass, but those deaths are spread over the landscape of the entire nation and are caused by individual entities, not localized at sites managed by corporations.
Let’s pause here to inject a little history. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted in response to market forces. Waterfowl were becoming scarce because market hunters were killing huge numbers of ducks and geese and selling them, wholesale, to retailers.
Waterfowl and marsh-dwelling birds were becoming scarce because the farm industry had drained millions of acres of wetlands and transformed them into croplands.
Under the revised law, market hunting would still be prohibited because the hunters would take an active role in killing the animals. But would today’s agribusiness conglomerates still be prohibited from draining wetlands?
“Oops,” they could say. “We didn’t realize that draining a stinky ol’ swamp would deprive all those birds of places to nest and raise their young.”
Weakening this law is a bad idea. Doing it by administrative fiat, instead of through legislation, is an outrage. The public comment period on the proposed rule opened earlier this week.
Comments can be made online through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, http://www.regulations.gov. Submit comments to Docket No. FWS–HQ–MB–2018–0090.