SACRAMENTO, Calif. – An important bill seeking to continue protections for California’s migratory birds in the face of federal rollbacks today passed a key committee hurdle in the California State Assembly. Assembly Bill 454, authored by Assembly Member Ash Kalra, will sever the linkage between state wildlife protection regulations and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which is being scaled back by the Trump Administration. Audubon California is sponsoring the bill.
“The fundamental question that this bill answers is whether we want important decisions about the protection of California’s birds to be made here in Sacramento or in Washington, D.C.,” said Michael Lynes, public policy director of Audubon California. “As the federal government continues to roll back important environmental protections, California needs to step up and ensure that our natural treasures are safeguarded.”
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of the nation’s oldest environmental laws and for decades, it has been administered by the federal government to prohibit so-called “incidental take,” or the unintentional, but foreseeable, killing of migratory birds during otherwise legal activities.
The MBTA is credited with helping conserve hundreds of bird species, including such notable species as the Sandhill Crane, Red-tailed Hawk, and Burrowing Owl, which are not protected by other federal statute. It provided the basis for recovering natural resource damages from events like the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in Alaska and the Cosco-Busan spill in San Francisco Bay. It also incentivized industries whose activities kill birds to develop methods to avoid and minimize their impacts.
In late 2017, the Trump Administration issued a legal opinion that reversed decades of government policy and practice—by both Democratic and Republican administrations—on the implementation and enforcement of the MBTA. In particular, the federal government said that it would no longer consider the MBTA to prohibit incidental take.
The Trump Administration has subsequently expressed its intention to issue formal regulations for the MBTA to make its interpretation permanent and binding.
Protections for migratory birds exist throughout California’s Fish and Game Code, however, a loophole provided by Fish and Game Code section 3513 threatens to confuse – and potentially undo – all of these code provisions that protect migratory birds. As currently written, Fish and Game Code section 3513 prohibits the killing of migratory birds unless allowed by the rules or regulations issued from the federal Department of Interior pursuant to the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or MBTA.
“Assembly Bill 454 eliminates that loophole that some would use to diminish California’s bedrock wildlife protections,” added Lynes. “This bill is vital if we want a future California that we can be proud to leave to our children.”
The Administration’s legal interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was roundly criticized by conservationists and dozens of former Department of Interior officials from both political parties. For example, representatives from more than 500 conservation groups and other organizations from all 50 states signed a letter urging Congress to defend the Act.
About Audubon California
Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 350,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society. More information is available at ca.audubon.org.