ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As excited Marylanders rush to see a rare colorful transient bird in Montgomery County, the Trump administration has stripped protections for migratory birds.
Conservation groups vow to fight the new rule change, which means companies no longer will be penalized if birds are accidentally killed from business actions, including pollution and oil spills.
Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy for the National Wildlife Federation, said before the switch, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act fined or prosecuted companies for killing migratory birds, whether on purpose or by accident.
“This rule is basically this administration ‘flipping the bird’ at Congress and the courts and saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what the courts or Congress say, we can do what we want,’ and in this case that means allowing the loss of life of untold numbers of migratory birds,” Leahy contended.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said the new rule provides regulatory clarification and will reduce lawsuits.
Industry leaders and federal officials also say they believe businesses will continue to voluntarily protect bird habitats.
But Leahy argued normal industrial activity often unintentionally harms birds. He reported oil-waste pits kill somewhere between half-million and a million birds a year.
“Power lines can kill nearly 70 million birds per year, communication towers around seven million birds,” Leahy explained. “So these types of activities can have real impacts on migratory bird populations.”
With hundreds of birdwatchers flocking to Maryland’s Great Falls Park to view an unusual winter sighting of a male painted bunting, Leahy pointed out the rule could impact this popular outdoor activity.
He noted birdwatching is a major economic engine in many states including coastal ones such as Maryland.
“To put a rule in place that is going to potentially hurt that economic engine in the communities that depend on bird watching is not a good decision in our view at this time,” Leahy cautioned.
He added he thinks the Biden administration could reverse this decision.
He pointed to a study published in Science magazine, which estimated nearly 30% of America’s birds have disappeared in the past 50 years. That’s three billion birds.