The White House recently announced proposed laws to beef up the protection of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The reasoning of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is that birds face dangers from new technology that the MBTA did not foresee.
Reading the Fine Print
On the surface, it sounds great. Though if you look at the fine print, you’ll find some disconcerting language. There are provisions for authorized incidental take with military-readiness activities. Okay, no problem there. Other wording is not so cut and dry.
The proposed laws also address incidental take with regard to certain industry sectors. Another part of the text reads:
“. . . and the effects on migratory bird populations of impacts to migratory bird habitat, including, but not limited to, climate change.”
While worthy to note, it presents a political motivation for targeting certain industries. Let’s look at some numbers. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) located in the Mojave Desert, takes upward of 28,000 birds per year. This is a rate of one bird every two minutes.
Then, we have wind turbines. According to FWS numbers, wind turbines take nearly 440,000 per year, including raptors like golden eagles. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) warned that wind industry is actively lobbying to weaken regulations regarding eagle take. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill killed an estimated 225,000 birds. The Deepwater Horizon killed between 7,000 and 23,000 birds.
Birds and Politics
Some bird deaths are unavoidable. To suggest otherwise is an appeal to ignorance fallacy. However, the proposal wording to include climate change sets up a political firestorm. It gives the government the power to pick winners and losers. Birds are the vehicle to do it.
If the administration was serious about bird lives—bats are affected too BTW—then all industries would be fined equally. It makes little difference if a bird died outright as a streamer or if it was stunned by a turbine and then taken by a predator. The result is the same.
Provisions for “conditional authorization” must recognize the bird loss and not the means by which it occurred. And as the numbers show, the renewable energy industries have a lot of answer for.