The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson
The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

Featured News and Events

Guest Post by David Klinger

Photo: David Klinger From time to time the Editor asks a guest expert to comment on a timely issue; one that Rachel Carson cared deeply about and which relates directly to the body of her work. Wildlife was central to her vision of environmental protection and birds particularly figured in her writing and research.

Carson wrote about birds, their importance to humans, their habitats and behavior in all of her books. A sanderling was her focus in Under the Sea-wind, various sea birds were featured in The Sea Around Us and shore birds took center stage in The Edge of the Sea. In Silent Spring the death of robins through human agency was central to her intention to highlight the potential of human destruction of the natural world. In December 2017, the Trump Administration announced its intention to severely limit the protection of migratory birds and to alter the direction of historic federal policy.

David Klinger worked as an writer and editor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1977 to 2012. He frequently writes for newspapers and magazines on wildlife issues. He lives in Boise, Idaho and has kindly contributed this essay explaining this latest action against birds.

Birds of the air feeling chill wind as Trump
Administration scales back protections

One of the nation’s oldest and most fundamental wildlife protection laws — the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act — may now not survive the first year of the Trump Administration intact.

The Federal law, which strictly prohibits the unregulated killing of migratory birds, forms the basis for this country’s annual hunting seasons. It commits the United States, by treaty with four other nations, to the hemispheric protection of songbirds, waterfowl, and other migratory species.

A new, obscure Trump Administration legal interpretation of the long-standing law would permit companies and industrial operations to kill migratory birds, as long the purpose behind such killing was not intentional and not aimed at possessing birds, as hunters do when they take to the field with gun every autumn.

As such, the practical effect of the ruling by the Interior Department’s solicitor’s office would be to largely absolve corporations of fault in the taking of migratory birds as a by-product of their commercial activities, while holding individual hunters to higher culpability when they mistakingly kill certain birds during legal hunting seasons.

The December 22, 2017 ruling has drawn fire from at least seventeen former Interior Department officials and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service directors who served presidential administrations from the Nixon through the Obama presidencies.

“This legal opinion is contrary to the long-standing interpretation by every administration (Republican and Democrat) since at least the 1970s, who held that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act strictly prohibits the unregulated killing of birds,” they wrote in a January 10, 2018, protest letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“This is a new, contrived legal standard that creates a huge loophole in the MBTA, allowing companies to engage in activities that routinely kill migratory birds so long as they were not intending that their operations would ‘render an animal subject to human control,’” the leaders conclude.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was created in 1916 and formalized in in 1918 to protect birds that cross international boundaries (US and Canada) in their seasonal migrations. It was later expanded to encompass similar treaties with Mexico in 1936, Japan in 1972, and the former Soviet Union in 1976. It establishes the principle in the United States that killing of migratory birds is strictly prohibited, unless purposely allowed, such as during highly-regulated hunting seasons that set zones, times, and bag limits for the shooting of game species like ducks and geese.

The multi-nation pact stemmed from a growing international realization that migratory species are a shared continental, often hemispheric, resource, and that abuse or wastage of birds through poor hunting practices or mass killing to satisfy commercial markets in one nation affects others.

The law remains among the nation’s most strict environmental regulations, and also one of its oldest. Coupled with the Federal Lacey Act, a 1900 law that made violations of state wildlife laws a Federal offense, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act sought to reverse the turn-of-the-century decline in birds.

In later years, as hunting practices and Federal and state wildlife management programs improved, it was recognized that industrial operations, like open-pit mining, transmission of electric power, commercial fishing, and, most recently, construction of wind energy farms, extracted a significant, sometimes greater, toll on migratory bird populations.

Even though the purposes behind those business activities are legal and “take” of birds may be unintentional, technically such deaths violate the Federal law. The effect of the new Trump Administration ruling would be to absolve companies of legal liability under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and allow them to routinely kill migratory birds, as long as their activities were not intended to “render an animal subject to human control.”

Since the new, 41-page legal memorandum by the Interior Department that reinterprets the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (M-37050) was announced in December, there has been no public response to the protest letter from the former Interior officials.

Contributed by: David Klinger worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1977 to 2012.

Photo Credit: Ann R. Gridley