SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Governor Gavin Newsom today signed a bill strengthening the state’s protections for migratory birds beyond those specified under federal law, including the Endangered Species Act. Assembly Bill 454 clarifies existing state safeguards for native birds and closes loopholes where California law defers to federal law, which has been severely weakened by the Trump administration. The bill was authored by Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and sponsored by the National Audubon Society.
“With AB 454, California is demonstrating that it can protect vulnerable bird species while also enjoying a thriving economy,” said Sarah Rose, executive director of Audubon California. “As bird populations continue to decline at alarming rates throughout the United States, AB 454 allows California to retain its authority to ensure the survival of our birds regardless of environmental rollbacks and short-sighted policies issued by the federal government.”
The enactment of AB 454 comes just over a week after the release of a study in the journal Science that reported that bird populations in the United States have declined by approximately 30 percent or nearly three billion birds since 1970. Bird populations are likely to face greater threats in the future due to ongoing habitat loss, climate change, and other human-induced threats such as pesticides.
“We are deeply appreciative for Assemblymember Kalra’s leadership and dedication on AB 454,” said Michael Lynes, Director of Public Policy for Audubon California. “California leaders such as Assemblymember Kalra and Attorney General Becerra have demonstrated that they will stand up to the Trump administration to ensure California and its wildlife are protected. We encourage Governor Newsom and the Department of Fish and Wildlife to rigorously protect and enforce the state’s laws to protect birds, fish, and other vulnerable species.”
AB 454 became necessary after the Trump administration issued a guidance memorandum in December 2017 stating that it would no longer interpret the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to prohibit the “incidental take” of birds; that is, birds killed unintentionally but avoidably during otherwise legal industrial, commercial, agricultural or other activity. The guidance reverses another DOI memorandum issued just a year earlier, as well as decades of bipartisan enforcement of the MBTA. Under the Trump administration, only “affirmative action,” the intentional killing of birds, will be held criminally liable, effectively invalidating provisions of the MBTA that permitted the collection of millions of dollars in damages following the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills.
AB 454 amends sections of California’s Fish and Game Code that may be interpreted to defer the state’s authority to prohibit the killing of birds to the federal government. The new law is a step by California officials to block the effect of the Trump administration reversal. In May of last year, California joined seven other states in a lawsuit challenging the DOI memorandum, followed in November by guidance from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, stating that incidental take remained illegal in California regardless of federal policy.