On behalf of four leading bird and wildlife conservation organizations—National Audubon Society, American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife—today we filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging the Trump Administration’s decision to undermine the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), one of the nation’s oldest and most important conservation laws. The MBTA makes it unlawful for anyone to kill or “take” a migratory bird without a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”). For decades, both Democratic and Republican Administrations construed this language as encompassing major industrial actions—such as building transmission lines, storing oil in pits, and erecting industrial wind turbines—that have the foreseeable consequence of killing large numbers of migratory birds when built near important bird habitats, even if that is not the specific purpose of the activity. That interpretation has had the beneficial effect of conserving many millions of birds, particularly by prompting a number of industries to adopt best practices and other measures for avoiding or minimizing bird impacts. However, in response to lobbying from the oil and gas industry, the Trump Administration’s Solicitor of the Interior in December 2017 abruptly reversed course—with no prior public notice or comment—and declared instead that only actions that are specifically intended to kill or take birds (such as hunting) are covered by the MBTA’s protections. The lawsuit filed today contends that this about-face—which has been severely criticized by former Department of Interior officials from both past Republican and Democratic Administrations—flies in the face of the plain language and overriding purpose of the MBTA, and also contravenes the public’s right to comment on such a dramatic change in policy and violates the National Environmental Policy Act. A copy of the Complaint can be found here and a press release on the lawsuit can be found here.
Photo credit: National Park Service