Congressmen Lowenthal, Fitzpatrick, Introduce Legislation To Permanently Protect Millions Of Migratory Birds

July 29, 2021
Press Release

Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), today, joined with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) to introduce the bipartisan Migratory Bird Protection Act, legislation that would permanently codify important and much-needed protections for millions of migratory birds. The legislation would provide regulatory certainty for industries and help ensure that we meet the conservation goals of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) which forms the backbone of our nation’s migratory bird conservation efforts. The legislation is also co-sponsored by 47 Members of Congress.

“The MBTA has been a critical tool for bird conservation for over 100 years,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “Democratic and Republican presidential administration since the 1970s have interpreted and applied the law in a similar way, which has saved countless numbers of birds. Our bill would prevent future federal executive action that may apply a flawed interpretation to the MBTA, and once and for all reaffirm and formalize all of the MBTA protections. We must prevent future reinterpretations that might let commercial interests off the hook when it comes to killing birds.”

The Migratory Bird Protection Act deals with language within the MBTA that seeks to eliminate “incidental takes” by commercial activity. An incidental take is when birds are killed during an otherwise legal activity. For example, birds which are killed by flying into open oil pits. Previous administrations have used fines and financial incentives to reduce incidental takes by commercial and business entities.

“We must take the necessary steps to protect and conserve migratory bird populations,” Congressman Fitzpatrick said. “We must ensure that longstanding protections for birds are fully maintained while providing greater regulatory certainty. I am proud to join Rep. Lowenthal in introducing the bipartisan Migratory Bird Protection Act, which takes important steps to protect millions of migratory birds.”

In December 2017, the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a legal opinion that, for the first time, exempted all incidental take from enforcement. This reinterpretation led to widespread objections, including from former senior DOI officials of both Republican and Democratic administrations, multiple states, and hundreds of organizations. This reinterpretation was rescinded by the current administration, however, there remains the threat of future administrations reversing the interpretation once again in favor of commercial interests.

The Migratory Bird Protection Act would reaffirm decades of practice and policy of the MBTA by every previous Republican and Democratic administration; uphold our international treaty obligations regarding bird conservation; help minimize certain industrial hazards and incentivize best management practices; and allow for financial resources to recover from incidents that impacts birds, such as oil spills.

The Congressmen’s legislation also calls on the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a permit program to authorize incidental take in a way that would minimize regulatory burdens while incentivizing commercial entities to implement best practices that protect birds. It would also create a mitigation fee for impacts that cannot be avoided to help conserve impacted bird populations, including through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) program, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and other conservation programs.

Click here to read the full text of the legislation.

The bill is supported by numerous organizations including the National Wildlife Foundation, the National Audubon Society, the Defenders of Wildlife, the Wildlife Society, and the American Bird Conservancy.

“Since 1970, we have lost 3 billion birds in North America – a devastating crisis for biodiversity, wildlife, and all those who enjoy birdwatching. The Migratory Bird Protection Act ensures durable protections for iconic migratory bird species like the little blue heron and wood thrush,” Director of Legal Advocacy for the National Wildlife Federation Jim Murphy said. “We applaud Congressman Lowenthal’s leadership on this issue and look forward to working with policymakers to save migratory birds.”

“The Migratory Bird Protection Act will strengthen baseline protections for birds at a critical time,” Senior Vice President of Conservation Policy for the National Audubon Society Sarah Greenberger said. “We have lost 3 billion birds in North America since 1970 and climate change threatens extinction for two-thirds of bird species. Birds are telling us they are in trouble and we are running out of time to act.”

“Americans love migratory birds and want to see them protected,” President and CEO for Defenders of Wildlife Jamie Rappaport Clark said. “Stripping away longstanding protections from birds to buffer unsafe industry practices is irresponsible and reckless. Rep. Lowenthal’s bill puts our nation back on track to support and protect birds for all of us to enjoy and celebrate.”

"With over one-third of America's native species at increased risk of extinction and a loss of more than three billion birds in the past half century, now is the time for Congress to act," President of The Wildlife Society Dr. Carol Chambers said. "Through Congressmen Lowenthal's and Fitzpatrick's leadership, the Migratory Bird Protection Act will provide support for wildlife biologists and managers to work collaboratively towards the proactive conservation successes America is capable of."

“Birds have inherent value and are an economic driver along with providing essential services necessary to people, from natural pest control to crop pollination. This Act provides the certainty industry needs while also ensuring birds receive the protections they deserve,” Director of Conservation Advocacy for the American Bird Conservancy Jennifer Cipolletti said.