Thursday, November 30, 2017

Bird kills, no 30-year take permit required!

An amendment from the House Committee on Natural Resources to House Energy Bill H.R. 4239 effectively guts the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by absolving oil and gas companies from responsibility for bird deaths in oil pits, on power lines, and from other energy-related infrastructure, including wind power projects. Are energy-related deaths really a problem for birds? Well, four of the Decorah eaglets that we know have been electrocuted and electrocution was the biggest source of mortality in Golden Eagles in a multi-year study recently published by the National Wildlife Health Institute, so we certainly think so. But beyond that, Audubon put together these figures:
Who needs a 30-year take permit under this law? NO ONE. Remember how angry everyone was about the 30-year take permit on bald and golden eagles? THIS IS WORSE. Phone your representative and add your voice to Audubon and the American Bird Conservancy's protests. You can use this tool to get contact information based on your zip code: Do it now!  

While we're on the dismal topic of legislation that is bad for birds, here's a list of  bills aimed at the Endangered Species Act:

H.R. 717 by Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) would require consideration of the economic costs of protecting an animal or plant on the endangered species list and remove deadlines for completing the listing process. Deadlines assure completion of a process: removing them does the opposite.
  • The Endangered Species Act provides many exceptions and alternatives to allow economic growth within the framework of environmental protection. Between 1998 and 2004, less than one percent of the 429,533 development projects that underwent Section 7 consultation were temporarily put on hold. Only one project could not proceed; the rest were implemented after modification. Removing the deadlines for completing the listing process will allow opponents of listing to prevent it through endless rounds of comment submissions and information stonewalling. 
H.R. 1274 by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) would automatically deem any information submitted by a state or local government to be the “best available” science even if such information were contradictory, out-of-date or fraudulent, weakening the listing process for endangered species. Your voices will become less significant than the voice of state and local governments in decisions involving the listing of endangered species.
  • Under present law, the service considers any information submitted on the biology, distribution, or threats to the species when making their decisions. When we asked you to comment on the 30-year take proposal in 2016, we did our best to provide you with scientifically accurate information - the same information that we used in our own comments. Although their decision wasn't perfect, your input helped to improve it. Under the proposed law, your comments won't be weighted as heavily as the comments of state and local governments, whether those comments are accurate and truthful or not. 
H.R. 3131 by Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) would hamper citizen enforcement and participation in the implementation of the Act’s provisions. Undercutting the ability of citizens to bring lawsuits would make the agency more prone to improperly consider politics in its listing decisions and prevent imperiled species from receiving protections in a timely manner.  Citizen suits are the primary mechanism by which the ESA is enforced against government agencies and private entities.
  • A real-life example: Citizen suits have required the EPA to conduct scientific assessments and make effects determinations for numerous pesticides, thereby protecting animal and human health. You can learn more about that here: These assessments happened only after the lawsuits were brought.  
  • Another real-life example: In Beech Ridge, the Animal Welfare Institute and other environmental groups brought an ESA citizen suit against Beech Ridge Energy LLC, a wind project developer in West Virginia. The project was found to violate the “take” prohibition in ESA section 9 with respect to an endangered bat, resulting in restrictions on the timing and duration of the wind turbine operation. Their actions helped protect an endangered bat and the project was still able to move forward, albeit with some restrictions.
  • Speaking of wind turbines, the American Bird Conservancy and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory filed a citizen suit regarding the installation and operation of a wind turbine at Camp Perry, which is sited in a major bird migration corridor, is located in close proximity to numerous bald eagle nests, and is likely to kill species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Construction on the project was halted (and yes, we signed their petition):
H.R. 2603 by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) attempts to limit the Endangered Species Act’s provisions for exotic game species that have been imported into the United States for trophy hunting. If taken literally, this legislation would remove the need for conservation permits of exotic game species, eliminating a critical funding source for overseas conservation of those very species. Removing or limiting oversight for the importation of live exotic animals is a bad idea given how easily exotics can become invasives.
  • This bill addresses the importing of live exotic game species into the United States for hunting. For example, zebras are imported into the United States for hunting in Texas, Mr. Gohmert's home state. You can also hunt the scimitar-horned oryx, gemsbock, kudu, bongo antelope, addax, wildbeest, and so on. While some people find trophy hunting distasteful, it is legal, the ranches have helped conserve very rare species (some of them claim to have the only populations of these species in the world), and the required conservation permits help fund overseas conservation. However, H.R. 2603 removes the need for conservation permits, taking away funding and oversight. Given how rare some of these species are, and how easily exotic species become invasive species - take a look at the "Snow Monkeys of Texas" for an example - both things are needed. I recommend starting with this article to learn more about exotic animal hunting in the United States. 
H.R. 424 by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) would reinstate a 2011 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove federal protections for gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states. In 2014 a federal judge found numerous scientific and legal deficiencies with that 2011 decision and brought back protections for gray wolves. The legislation would invalidate the court opinion and preclude all judicial review into the future.
  • Why does this have to do with birds, or anything other than gray wolves? H.R. 424 is seeking to overturn a federal judge's ruling that the original 2011 decision was flawed legally and scientifically. But nothing precludes anyone from calling for removal of the gray wolf again - it isn't a system where listing or delisting can only be required once. This bill sets a process for completely ignoring standards by overturning decisions through the legislative process. If it wins, the process - which circumvents the Endangered Species Act  - will be applied in other laws to other species. 
Again, we encourage everyone to call their representatives and stand up for the Endangered Species Act! You can use this tool to get contact information based on your zip code: The American Bird Conservancy also has an ESA petition tool here: