Action Alert: Help Defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

In March, we published a blog post on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), outlining current threats to this landmark law and opportunities for action. AOS members and the broader public now have another opportunity to weigh in on this important process.

To recap, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a proposed regulation that would lock in a 2017 legal opinion reinterpreting the MBTA that ended enforcement of “incidental take” under the law. The public comment period for this stage ended in March, and many scientists, state wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, and others submitted comments expressing concern and providing information to consider as part of an analysis to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Next Steps

FWS has now taken the next step in its rollback of the law by releasing a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on this proposed rule. This DEIS includes an environmental analysis and alternatives for this rule, and includes a public comment period that is open until July 20.

This comment period provides another critical opportunity to provide input on the rulemaking, particularly with regard to the adequacy of the analysis of impacts and its range of alternatives, as well as their preferred alternative and decision to continue to pursue this regulation.

The draft EIS includes three alternatives: a no-action alternative that continues to apply its 2017 legal opinion on the MBTA; a preferred alternative that codifies this opinion into the MBTA’s regulations; and an alternative that would rescind the opinion and codify the previous interpretation that prohibited incidental take.

FWS concluded that its preferred alternative would likely lead to the most harm to migratory birds of these three options by reducing the incentive to implement best management practices, which would lead to additional bird mortality, increased Endangered Species Act listings, a reduction of ecosystem services, and more. 

Despite acknowledging these outcomes, FWS does not include a detailed analysis nor a methodology for describing how bird populations will be impacted, along with impacts to ecosystem services and other values, beyond noting that they are likely to be negative. Scientists have an important opportunity to provide additional information for FWS to consider how to analyze or explain these impacts, as well as provide additional input on its range of alternatives, and on its policy choices.

Take Action

As we noted in our previous post, the implications of this process are profound for the health of bird populations and for the significant values that birds provide. The MBTA has been the foundation for North American bird conservation for a century, and its protections are needed now as much as ever.

You can find the draft EIS here, and you can submit a public comment by July 20th at this link.


  1. I strongly oppose the USFWS Final Rule to remove corporate penalties for so-called unintentional harm to migratory birds. Without accountability, experts say the plan will likely result in less responsibility on the part of industry operating in and around the habitats or flight paths of these birds and massive population losses. Under current regulations, British Petroleum paid $100 million in fines for the loss of over a million birds during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With no penalties at all, companies are even less likely to behave responsibly.
    The mission of the USFWS is to “Work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.“ Protecting corporate profits instead of wild bird populations is clearly in direct conflict with this mission.
    According to the summary of a 2019 report released by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, “Cumulative loss of nearly three billion birds since 1970, across most North American biomes, signals a pervasive and ongoing avifaunal crisis.” Further, according to the report, “A total of 419 migratory species experienced a net loss of 2.5 billion individuals. Shorebirds, most of which migrate long distances to winter along coasts throughout the hemisphere, are experiencing consistent, steep population loss. Population loss is not restricted to rare and threatened species, but includes many widespread and common species that may be disproportionately influential components of food webs and ecosystem function.”
    Of the total loss of three billion birds, 2.5 billion were migratory species…the very birds targeted to lose protection by the USFWS Final Rule.
    As wild bird populations come under increasing pressure from pesticides, habitat loss and climate disruptions, protections should be strengthened, not weakened. We must not give corporations permission to recklessly endanger migratory birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act must NOT be weakened.

  2. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was a wonderful milestone in international cooperation

    It would be tragic for the government to backpedal now, especially with so many species populations under stress

  3. Please keep the migratory bird act the same as it was originally. The Trump administration cares nothing for the environment or wildlife.

  4. Every company has already made allowances to follow the rules of the MBTA. So there is no upside to changing it. It was good for the last hundred years, it will be good for the next hundred years.

  5. I think it is absolutely deplorable that considering all the present day miseries that humans have been and continue to inflict on our natural world that this administration wants to continue there record of tearing apart environmental protecting legislation and make reinterpretations to the MBTA. Please LEAVE IT ALONE !

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