Federal wildlife officials have acknowledged that the move could result in more deaths of birds that land in oil wells or strike power lines or other structures.
In August, a United States District Court judge blocked the administration’s earlier attempt to change the way the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is applied.
But urged by industry groups, the Trump administration has remained adamant the act has been used inappropriately for decades to penalize companies and other entities that accidentally kill birds.
More than 1,000 species are covered by the Migratory Birds Act, and the decision to lower enforcement standards has sparked a strong backlash from organizations defending the names of around 46 million U.S. ornithologists.
Environmentalists said on Tuesday they would push President-elect Joe Biden to overturn the Home Office rule, which prevents officials from laying criminal charges unless the birds are specifically targeted for death or injury.
Former US Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe and independent scientists have said the change could cause a huge spike in bird mortality – potentially billions of birds in the decades to come – at a time when species in North America are already in sharp decline.
According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and recent studies, industry sources kill an estimated 450 million to 1.1 billion birds each year, out of a total of 7.2 billion birds in America. North. Many companies have sought to reduce bird deaths over the past decades by working in cooperation with wildlife officials, but the incentive to participate in such efforts diminishes in the absence of the threat of criminal liability.
The Migratory Birds Act of 1918 came after many American bird populations were decimated by hunting and poaching – largely for the feathers of women’s hats.
The most high-profile enforcement case purchased under the Migratory Birds Act resulted in a $ 100 million settlement by BP, after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill killed an estimated 100,000 birds.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said the latest proposal was supposed to correspond to a 2017 court ruling that effectively shut down criminal law enforcement for most of Trump’s presidency. In the August court ruling that overturned that legal opinion, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni in New York City said the law applied to all bird kills, not just those that were intentional.
Over the decades, federal courts have been divided over whether companies can be sued under Migratory Birds Act, with appellate courts ruling three times in favor of the industry and siding. against companies twice.
Home Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement that the change finalized on Tuesday “simply reaffirms the original meaning and intent of the Migratory Birds Treaty Act.”
“The US Fish and Wildlife Service will not prosecute landowners, industry and others for accidentally killing a migratory bird,” he said.
Noah Greenwald, of the Center for Biological Diversity, said Trump officials were giving oil companies and other industries “a license to kill birds.”
“Large numbers of birds will be electrocuted by power lines, drowned in oil waste pits and killed by other easily preventable means,” Greenwald said.