Under Republican and Democratic presidents from Nixon through Obama, killing migratory birds, even inadvertently, was a crime, with fines for violations ranging from $250 to $100 million. The power to prosecute created a deterrent that protected birds and enabled government to hold companies to account for environmental disasters.
But in part due to President Donald Trump’s interior secretary nominee, David Bernhardt, whose confirmation awaits a Senate vote, the wildlife cop is no longer on the beat. Bernhardt pushed a December 2017 legal opinion that declared the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies only when companies kill birds on purpose.
Internal government emails obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting provide evidence of federal wildlife agents opting out of investigations and enforcement, citing that policy change as the reason.
First enacted to implement a 1916 treaty with Canada, the 1918 law was written to protect migratory birds – as well as their nests, eggs and even feathers – from being captured, sold or killed “at any time, or in any manner.” Similar treaties were signed by the governments of Mexico, Japan and the Soviet Union, now Russia, and included in the law.
The reinterpretation of the bird law by the administration may run afoul of these long-standing treaties. The issue is on the agenda of a trilateral meeting among the U.S., Canada and Mexico this week.
“The Government of Canada continues to interpret the century-old Migratory Bird Convention as to prohibiting the incidental take (killing or harming) of migratory birds, their nests and eggs,” said Gabrielle Lamontagne, a spokeswoman for Environment and Climate Change Canada. She…