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New Policy Ends Enforcement Of Accidental Migratory Bird Deaths

Sandhill cranes flock to Northern Indiana in the thousands as they migrate south for the winter.

An Indiana conservation leader is criticizing a federal policy change that could have an impact on deaths of migratory birds.

The Trump administration is changing the way the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces a law meant to protect migratory birds from accidental deaths. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or MTBA,  is a nearly century old law that saw stepped up enforcement under the Obama administration.

The changes reverse an Obama-era policy that prosecuted accidental deaths with steep fines. That includes deaths from wind farms, power lines and open waste pits.

Brad Bumgardner is the Executive Director of the Indiana Audobon Society. He says more enforcement is necessary, but says the Obama policy was written too broadly.

“So it allows for a lot of vagueness on what would qualify as an accidental capture or take,” Bumgardner says. “A good example would be if you hit a cardinal with your car: does that count as an accidental killing and does that require the $15,000 fine?”

Bumgardner says that power lines alone cause 175 million bird deaths a year.

During the Obama administration, companies were allowed a certain number of accidental kills per year, with fines levied for each bird over that limit.

The Trump administration changes would do away with any enforcement in accidental death cases.
Bumgarder says the changes mean companies no longer have any motivation to prevent accidental deaths of migratory birds.

“So basically with no punishments now … it discourages companies from taking any kind of precautions or safeguards for the birds,” Bumgardner says.

More than 400 species of bird that travel through Indiana. Bumgardner says habitats in the state are a major stopover point for many bird species.

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