Skip to main content

Obama administration wants to make the skies safer for birds

Obama administration wants to make the skies safer for birds


The current bird protection laws are almost 100 years old

Share this story

David McNew/Getty Images

The Obama administration proposed new laws this week that would protect birds from threats like oil wells, gas flares, and power lines. The laws would provide a comprehensive framework for preventing migratory bird killings resulting from human intervention. The most established bird protection law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), is nearly 100 years old, and most of it doesn't account for recently developed threats.

The proposals account for accidental bird death

The MBTA was introduced in 1918 as a way to prevent people from hunting, capturing, killing, and selling near-extinct migratory birds. But many of the threats facing birds today — wind turbines, high-tension power lines, communications towers — weren't pervasive when the MBTA was first introduced. The MBTA allows for the hunting of migratory birds with a permit, as long as bird populations have the numbers to sustain themselves. But there are no laws currently in place to account for the accidental killing of birds — electrocution, collision, being trapped in an oil well.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released a notice of intent outlining the ways in which the deaths of migratory bird populations could be reduced. Some of the suggestions include: closed containment systems or netting over wastewater disposal pits to prevent birds from entering, removing perches and small openings from gas burner pipes where birds can get trapped, and making communication towers shorter and less attractive to birds. Power distribution lines can also be designed to deter birds from landing on them. The suggested regulations would exist under the MBTA.

The House Republicans introduced a bill earlier this year to prevent energy companies from facing severe legal ramifications for failing to comply with bird protection laws. The FWS says it will consider a "conditional authorization" for certain industry sectors as long as they adhere to appropriate standards of protection. The notice of intent is open for public comment until July.