In December we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Since 1918 it has given protection to birds that might be killed, in the words of the treaty, incidentally or accidentally.
It was no excuse if death of a migratory bird was incidental or accidental.
Industry had to make an effort to prevent the death of birds that might, for instance, fly into wind generators or power lines or land in oil waste pits on a drilling site. Incidental or accidental death of birds could mean prosecution and fines.
The law had long arms. It was illegal for you or me to harm a nesting bird, to even remove a tree holding an active nest. Nor could you harm the woodpecker making holes in your house.
No more. With unbelievable timing, on the 100th anniversary of the treaty, the federal government has gutted it.
You know bad things are happening when the National Ocean Industries Association and the American Petroleum Institute, among others, give enthusiastic approval to action on wildlife and the environment, as they have in this case.
Holding people and companies responsible for incidental and accidental harm to birds now is called “overreach” by our Department of the Interior.
Breaking the law today, under the new language, requires “direct and affirmative purposeful actions to reduce migratory birds, their eggs, or their nests by killing or capturing …”
In other words, you can’t do it on purpose, but you are not responsible for incidents or accidents.
The scenario has become: Dead birds? We’re sorry. We didn’t mean to. It was an accident.
Millions of birds die each year in incidental and accidental ways. Care was required, for instance, in to choosing a wind generator site that posed as small a risk to birds as possible. That could involve months or years of costly environmental study. Today, delay for a costly study might be considered overreach.
Drillers in North Dakota have had to restrict animal access to their oil waste pits, often mistaken by birds for water. That required both extra work and expense. Overreach?
Long-line fishing boats often have hooked albatross attracted by the trailing bait. Preventive measures were required. Overreach?
Those concerns have been replaced by what a spokesman for the ocean industry folks has called a “common sense approach.”
Or, you could say the change simply means freedom to kill migratory birds without consequence.