Congress Acts to Restore Vital Protections for Migratory Birds

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The Migratory Bird Protection Act has been introduced to restore safeguards for birds, like American Coot, from threats such as oil waste pits, wind turbines, power lines, and more. Photo by Pedro Ramirez Jr./USFWS

(Washington, D.C., January 8, 2020) Today, Representatives Lowenthal (D-CA) and 18 bipartisan original co-sponsors introduced the Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552) to restore longstanding protections for migratory birds against industrial take — that is, unintentional but predictable killing. Bird populations in North America are plummeting — a stunning 3 billion birds have disappeared from the United States and Canada since 1970 — and federal law is essential to conserving and recovering these populations.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), one of our nation's first conservation laws, was enacted to implement our international treaty commitments to protect populations of migratory birds. Unfortunately, the current administration has crippled the MBTA by declaring that it no longer protects migratory birds from unconstrained incidental take by oil and gas developers and other industries.

The Migratory Bird Protection Act reaffirms the MBTA's intent to protect migratory birds from industrial activities and provides regulatory certainty to responsible developers in managing incidental take, so long as they follow best management practices to avoid bird deaths. This important and reasonable approach gives industries clear and consistent expectations for protecting birds without jeopardizing our international commitments and conservation legacy.

Statements from environmental groups:

“It's a win-win. Rep. Lowenthal's bill provides the certainty industry needs while also ensuring that birds are protected, with best management practices used to prevent mortality and mitigate inevitable impacts,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy, American Bird Conservancy.

“Losing 3 billion birds is a wake-up call. Our planet is experiencing significant losses in biodiversity, and migratory birds are declining across America and the world,” said Bob Dreher, Senior Vice President, Conservation Programs at Defenders of Wildlife. “Today, Rep. Lowenthal has taken a strong stand to prevent the needless deaths of birds by strengthening the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and safeguarding the law for the future. We applaud our wildlife champions for introducing proactive legislation and working to save migratory birds from industrial threats.”

“This is the floor of what we should be doing for birds,” said David O'Neill, Chief Conservation Officer, National Audubon Society. “For a century, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act served as a common-sense tool to protect birds from preventable deaths while allowing our energy industry and broader economy to prosper. It ensured that industry took steps like covering oil waste pits, which birds mistake for bodies of water, and implementing best practices for power lines to reduce bird electrocutions and collisions. This new bill responds to a misguided, short-sighted attack by the Administration on that law. At a time when we've lost 3 billion North American birds since 1970 and climate change threatens extinction for two-thirds of bird species, this is the least we can do.”

“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of the most successful laws enacted to help protect our nation's birds, but it has been weakened by recent misinterpretations of the law at the Department of the Interior,” said Mike Leahy, Director of Wildlife, Hunting and Fishing Policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “It is imperative that we safeguard protections against significant losses of birds even when not deliberate, and the Migratory Bird Protection Act does just that. There is no sense in poking holes in a century-old, proven method of success when one-third of America's wildlife is at increased risk of extinction. We commend Rep. Lowenthal for taking this crucial step to ensure species like Sandhill Cranes and Snowy Egrets are around for generations to come.”

“As the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss accelerate, the strength of our bedrock environmental laws is more critical than ever,” said Katie Umekubo, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Trump administration's reckless actions threaten irreversible loss of birds. With the Migratory Bird Protection Act, Congress can reassert the longstanding balance between conservation and industrial activity that will, if done carefully, help ensure the survival of our precious avian species.”


American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using, science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more about how to help at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.

The National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization, uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.