Biden Administration Delays Rollback of Migratory Bird Protections

A Trump-era rule weakening bird protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been delayed, spelling good news for waterfowl hunters and bird watchers

The Biden administration delayed a ruling finalized in the Trump administration’s last days that would significantly weaken bird protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The new rule, which was set to go into effect on Feb 8th, determined that businesses and industry groups should not be penalized for accidentally or incidentally killing birds. The change would leave companies with no motivation or incentive to avoid conflicts with migratory birds and waterfowl.

The Biden administration’s one-month delay of the new rule will allow for the re-opening of a 20-day comment period for the public to engage with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The administration is also looking for other opportunities for public involvement.

The MBTA rollback delay is an opportunity for hunters and conservationists to speak up. In a week that saw like-minded hunters and conservation organizations stop the proposed bear hunting ban in California, this is another opportunity for their voices to be heard.

“My earliest memories are of being in a duck blind next to my father, feeling a rising excitement at the sounds of approaching waterfowl and identifying other birds from the blind, like northern flickers or great blue herons,” says CEO and president of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Land Tawney. “The bipartisan MBTA has since played a key role in upholding America’s outdoors legacy. We thank the Biden administration for restoring protections under the act—and taking an important step forward in ensuring a future for both bird populations and our hunting opportunities.”

What is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act?

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA) was implemented as one of the first major conservation policies to protect North American wildlife. It is part of what laid the groundwork for the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

For over 100 years, the MBTA has helped protect more than 1,000 different bird species in North America. After the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP was forced to pay over $100 million in fines under the MBTA, which were later used for wetland conservation. If the protections were to be rolled back, it would be more difficult to seek compensation for these kinds of environmental disasters.

“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a bedrock environmental law critical to protecting migratory birds and restoring declining bird populations,” Interior Department spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said. “The Trump administration sought to overturn decades of bipartisan and international precedent in order to protect corporate polluters.”

Oil pits, wind farms, electrical lines, and skyscraper collisions are some of the common problems migratory birds face. Of the 1,027 bird species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 92 bird species are listed as threatened or endangered, and 247 bird species are listed as birds of conservation concern, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

By holding big businesses and industry groups accountable for damages, The MBTA incentivizes them to avoid endangering migratory birds. It’s one of the ways to ensure that the protection of waterfowl and other important bird species is on the table during the planning phases of big projects.

As of right now, the 20-day public comment period isn’t live, but this landing page on the USFWS website will be a place to weigh in with your opinion very soon. Stay tuned to the USFWS and F&S.com for updates.