Posted by: Sandy Steinman | July 5, 2018

Migratory Bird Treaty Act Turned 100

Defenders of Wildlife News Release

Washington,July 03,2018

Migratory Bird Treaty Act Turns 100

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The MBTA protects more than a thousand species of migratory birds from overhunting and commercial activities; it has prevented the extinction of migratory birds like the snowy egret and red knot, and has long incentivized industries to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to minimize migratory bird deaths. But in December 2017, the Trump administration abruptly reversed decades of management and enforcement policy by reinterpreting the MBTA on the eve of its centennial. Under a legal memorandum issued by Department of the Interior, incidental take caused by industries such as utility and energy companies is entirely exempted from the law’s prohibitions. Under the Trump administration’s new policy, the MBTA will only protect migratory birds against purposeful killing and unauthorized hunting.

Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark, issued this statement:

“Today we celebrate the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This landmark law was one of the first to protect wildlife in our nation and highlight the need to steward our precious natural resources. Over the years, the Act has protected millions of migratory birds from threats – first, from becoming feathers for ladies’ hats, and in modern times from industrial threats like oil pits, cell towers, transmission lines and wind turbines.

“Despite this centennial of success, the Trump administration recklessly stripped protections from migratory birds and gave industry a pass to freely kill them. On the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Act, the Trump administration should be reaffirming, not weakening, the nation’s commitment to protecting protect America’s birds.”


  • The MBTA was enacted by Congress 100 years ago and has been interpreted by federal agencies, including Department of Justice, and the courts as protecting birds not just from unauthorized hunting, but also from being trapped, poisoned or otherwise killed by industrial operations. Under that interpretation, Department of the Interior has worked for decades with industries to develop common sense best management practices to avoid and reduce avian mortality from such threats as oil evaporation pits, transmission lines, cell towers and wind energy facilities.
  • On December 22, 2017, the Solicitor for the Department of the Interior issued a legal memorandum reversing the longstanding interpretation of the MBTA’s application to incidental take of birds, exempting industry from any legal obligations to prevent bird fatalities. The Solicitor’s legal opinion runs counter to the United States’ longstanding commitment under international agreements to protect migratory birds.
  • On January 11, 2018, a bipartisan coalition of 17 former Department of the Interior officials who served over the last 40 years sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke condemning the Department’s legal reinterpretation of the MBTA that could unravel the department’s successful work with industry to reduce foreseeable bird deaths and advance bird conservation.
  • On April 4, 2018, Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and 8 of their colleagues on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke requesting that he reconsider Department of the Interior’s reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to exclude liability for industries that kill birds. The Senators requested that the Secretary continue to fully enforce this foundational conservation law to protect hundreds of migratory bird species across the country.
  • On April 20, U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and 62 of his colleagues sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging him to suspend a concerning new interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) exempting industries from liability that incidentally—but predictably—kill birds. The Congressional representatives requested that the Secretary continue to fully enforce this foundational conservation law consistent with the legislative intent of the MBTA to protect hundreds of migratory bird species across the country from being killed by industrial hazards.
  • On May 24, 2018, a coalition of national environmental groups, including American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, and Natural Resources Defense Council, filed litigation, National Audubon Society v. Department of the Interior, in the Southern District of New York to push back against the Trump administration’s move to eliminate longstanding protections for waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.


  1. […] via Migratory Bird Treaty Act Turned 100 — Natural History Wanderings […]


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