We read with interest the article “Environmental Groups Push Back on Cheney Amendment Allowing Birds to be Killed; Industry Supportive” in the Nov. 12 issue of the Casper Star-Tribune. The topic of the article is the recent amendment introduced by Representative Liz Cheney to add much needed clarity to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The article alleges the amendment solely benefits the solar, wind and oil and natural gas industry, while failing to account for the overall intent of the amendment: to protect individuals and other industries from the threat of criminal prosecution as a result of misinterpretation of the MBTA.
To date, the ambiguity of the MBTA has made it ripe for abuse and, over time, its interpretation has gone far beyond the law’s original intent. The MBTA was enacted in 1918 to specifically protect migratory bird populations from overhunting and poaching, and it imposes criminal penalties for violations. The overall intent of Rep. Cheney’s Amendment is to provide greater clarification to the MBTA so that individuals and companies understand the Act only prohibits activities that intentionally harm migratory birds and that it does not criminalize otherwise lawful everyday activities that result in the unintended death of protected birds.
If the MBTA is read to impose strict criminal liability on otherwise legal conduct that results in the unintentional death of any one of over 1,000 protected bird species, many everyday activities would be deemed unlawful and subject to criminal sanctions. For example, ordinary land uses like harvesting crops to driving a vehicle could lead to criminal charges under the MBTA if any bird deaths occurred because of such action. Even owning a building with windows or owning a cat could put an individual at risk for criminal charges under the MBTA. Needless to say, business owners and operators face significant uncertainty and risk of prosecution under the MBTA to the extent that their facilities could result in the accidental deaths of birds, regardless of the stringent measures they take to prevent such occurrences.
The combination of ambiguity in the Act and resulting overzealous interpretation over time has brought a new level of absurdity to the application of the MBTA – a law that should be utilized to protect cherished species, not punish innocent companies and individuals. Rep. Cheney’s Amendment attempts to guard against misuse of the law and to clarify its language so that individuals and companies would have the benefit of knowing that the MBTA only prohibits intentional activities directed at birds, such as hunting and poaching, and does not criminalize otherwise lawful everyday activities that result in the incidental or unintended deaths of birds.
It is time for the MBTA to be updated to reflect its original purpose. This amendment is an important step to protect migratory birds, businesses and individuals alike.