Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Migratory Bird Treaty Act and its enforcement

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits capturing killing, selling, or otherwise endangering the well-being of migratory birds. It has rescued numerous species, including the snowy egret, which was hunted to the brink of extinction in the late 1800s but now has a U.S. population of more than a million today. Like all laws, this act is imperfect—for example, it contains no explicit exception for socially or economically vital activities that incidentally harm a small number of animals. However, because of smart management of the law and prosecutorial discretion, it has remained on the books for nearly a century with few changes. Undoing a law of such historical pedigree should be discussed and debated at length, but instead the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is at risk of being gutted with very little deliberation. Last week, Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina inserted a rider, a type of amendment, into the budget for Commerce, Justice and Science that would prevent federal prosecutors from enforcing the migratory bird law. While it may not pass—riders get inserted and then dropped in a lot of legislation—it could also make it through and render the Migratory Bird Treaty Act a dead letter. The move is the latest in a string of attacks on the act in recent years. In 2012, Representative Duncan proposed reducing fines for all energy producers that kill non-endangered migratory birds. In January, he introduced a bill to exempt all energy companies from prosecution for accidental killing of birds protected under the act.

Suggested text for people to write to their senators about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the attempt by the current congress to block its enforcement.

Dear Senator: Please vote against the appropriations bill for Commerce Justice and Related Agencies unless the rider that blocks enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (Amdt 347) is removed from the bill. The MBTA is one of our most important wildlife protection laws and this rider would allow people to kill wild birds without any penalty whatsoever. Our wild bird populations are already under great pressure and many are in severe decline. Please do not block the USFWS from enforcing this important law that protects our wild bird populations.

This announcement was originally posted on the Waterbird Society's website. View the full announcement.

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