Congressmen Lowenthal, Rooney, Lead Bipartisan Letter Urging Reversal Of Proposed Interior Dept. Rule Threatening Millions Of Migratory Birds

March 26, 2020
Press Release

Congressmen Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) and Francis Rooney (FL-19) today, along with 45 of their House colleagues, called on U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to reverse a proposed regulatory rulemaking reinterpreting a century-old law protecting more than 1,000 species of migratory birds across North America. This reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), if enforced, would remove the ability of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to mitigate incidental bird deaths due to industrial or commercial activities.

In the bipartisan letter to Secretary Bernhardt, the Members of Congress wrote, “We believe that DOI’s Solicitors Opinion and the proposed rule contradict the Congressional intent of the MBTA and violate our international treaty obligations. Congress prohibited the killing of migratory birds “by any means or in any manner” without a permit, and administrations for decades have reasonably applied the law’s mandate to address not only hunting, but industrial hazards as well.”

The MBTA has been used for decades to mitigate, through permitting of industrial and commercial activity, incidental bird deaths. Even when these deaths have not been avoided, the MBTA has been a critical tool to invest the penalties toward the recovery of impacted species. The MBTA fines from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed more than one million birds, resulted in $100 million for wetland restoration to benefit waterfowl and other birds through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

The letter concludes, “If DOI finalizes a rule that eliminates agency authority to address incidental take under the MBTA, DOI risks reversing the significant progress the nation has made in recovering and maintaining bird populations, needlessly ties the hands of the Department’s wildlife professionals, and undermines our international obligations. A responsible course of action is to suspend this rulemaking and instead address industrial threats to birds through general permits based on best management practices, similar to the framework set out in the bipartisan, H.R. 5552, the Migratory Bird Protection Act. On behalf of our constituents who care deeply about birds, we urge you to abandon this rulemaking and focus on efforts that protect and sustain migratory bird populations.”

Congressman Lowenthal’s bipartisan legislation introduced in January, the Migratory Bird Protection Act, would codify important protections for millions of migratory birds and formally reverse the Interior Department’s reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The bill was passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee in January and now awaits consideration before the full House of Representatives.

To read the entire letter to Secretary Bernhardt, and see the entire list of cosigners, please click here.