U.S. Plans to Restore Criminal Penalties for Accidental Killings of Migratory Birds

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Interior Department says Trump-era policy needs to be reversed to protect dwindling bird populations

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The Interior Department said Wednesday it was rolling out a final rule that quashes the Trump administration’s action, in a decision that had been expected. President Biden ordered a review of the bird-killing policy on his first day in office, as one of 103 Trump-era environmental regulations to be reconsidered.

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The Interior Department said it plans to develop new rules for accidental killings and will take public comment as part of the process.

“The effects of climate change, as well as habitat loss and degradation, are pushing more and more wildlife species to the brink,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. “Today we are announcing important steps to ensure that the Act can help protect birds today and in the future.”

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Penalties for accidental killings were in place for decades until business groups, farmers and energy companies lobbied for relief from the Trump administration.

The US Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation supported that effort, and the National Ocean Industries Association said the law was abused by groups trying to fight energy wind projects.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 set criminal penalties for the accidental killing of more than 1,000 migratory-bird species such as hawks, Canada geese and ducks. Lawyers for the Trump administration attempted to undo decades of precedent by formulating a new legal opinion that the law only intended to apply these punishments to intentional killings.

Environmentalists and bird advocates say this is a bad time to make such a change. Since 1970, North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds, more than a quarter of its bird population, according to research published in the journal Science in October 2019.

The Interior Department cited those figures in explaining its decision on Wednesday.

write to Timothy Puko and [email protected]

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