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Trump administration rule ends prosecuting industry for unintentionally killing birds

Lester Graham
A great white egret visiting Michigan was one of nearly a thousand kinds of migratory birds protected.

The Trump administration has finalized a rule that will cut protections for migratory birds.

The federal government will no longer prosecute companies and landowners who unintentionally kill migratory birds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed part of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which has protected birds for more than 100 years.

“So what this means, in essence, is that companies and farms and a lot of other instances will no longer be under the threat of criminal prosecution for killing large mass numbers of migratory birds,” Sean Hammond with the Michigan Envrionmental Council said.

Starting next month, industry and landowners won't be held responsible for any unintentional or accidental bird deaths. 

“Essentially the shift is now that unless you are intending to kill the birds, you won't be under criminal prosecution,” Hammond said.

Last year the proposed rule was struck down by a federal judge, but the agency is now citing another court decision in finalizing the rule.

The Act was used to punish companies for killing birds. For example, a settlement with BP cost the oil company $100 million for bird restoration after birds were killed during the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Until this rule change the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act forced companies to be more careful or be penalized.

“It certainly has guided principles of conservation in companies knowing that they are potentially at risk if they overspray pesticide while birds are coming through or things like that,” Hammond explained.

Hammond noted with climate change and bird populations already dropping, the elimination of protections is disturbing.

A Trump administration official's statement said landowners and industry should not be punished for accidentally killing migratory birds in the otherwise lawful pursuit of business.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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