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Congressmen Lowenthal, Fitzpatrick, Carbajal lead letter to Interior Dept. calling for more action to protect migratory birds

Congressmen Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), and Salud Carbajal (CA-24), today, joined with 38 of their House colleagues in calling on Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to take further action to help further secure migratory bird populations by upholding and improving existing legislative tools that help protect and conserve birds, such as the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

In the letter, the Members begin by thanking the Secretary for her recent actions to restore protections for birds under the MBTA, and her efforts to initiate a rulemaking process to consider an authorization program for incidental take under the MBTA.

The Members wrote, “We appreciate the establishment of a general permitting framework and urge the final rulemaking to implement such a program.”

Since passage of the MBTA more than a century ago, this foundational law has provided necessary protections for birds and formed the basis for bird conservation efforts led by the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in conjunction with numerous partners. The MBTA has catalyzed progress over the decades to minimize impacts to birds from human activity, including from industrial operations. The longstanding policy of Democratic and Republican administrations that the MBTA prohibits incidental take has led to valuable partnerships and the development of practices, technology, and guidelines that has saved millions of birds from preventable impacts.

The Members point out that even as successful as the MBTA has been, it remains a critical conservation tool. “The recent oil spill that occurred off the coast of Orange County, California,” the Members wrote, “led to significant environmental damage and killed numerous birds, demonstrating the continuing need to have tools like the MBTA in place that assist with accountability and recovery. When negligent harm has occurred to birds, as in with the Exxon Valdez and BP Deepwater Horizon oil spills, the negligent parties were fined and funds dedicated to habitat restoration and recovery and invested into the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund to benefit migratory birds.

In addition, the lawmakers point out that decisions regarding the MBTA made during the Trump administration still need to be rectified, specifically the December 2017 M-Opinion and January 2021 rule which set back decades of progress in protecting and conserving birds, undermined our treaty obligations, placed our bird populations at unprecedented risk, and injected new uncertainty under the law.

“We are glad to see that DOI revoked the January 2021 rule and will return to the longstanding interpretation of the MBTA,” the letter to the Secretary continues. “We also applaud the simultaneous publication of the Director’s Order and the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to codify incidental take protections and consider an authorization program for incidental take. We believe that DOI can and should simultaneously protect migratory birds while offering stakeholders regulatory certainty. DOI should establish a new and reasonable permit framework through this rulemaking, centered around a general permit that would advance best management practices and provide legal coverage for categories of activities that incidentally take birds. We urge the Department to move forward with this rulemaking and publish a proposed rule. Further, the bipartisan Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 4833) provides a similar framework for consideration during this rulemaking. While we believe that FWS has full authority to establish a permitting program, complementary legislation can help provide additional stability and certainty for bird populations and the regulated community.”

To read the full text of the letter and see a list of signatories, click here.

This article was released by the Office of Congressman Alan Lowenthal.