Trump is Rolling back Protections for Migratory Birds. That’s a ProblemRoundup
tags: environmental history, wildlife
Kristoffer Whitney is assistant professor in the department of Science, Technology and Society at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
In its last months in office, the Trump administration is attempting to weaken key environmental protections for migratory birds. That’s a problem.
For more than a century, the federal government has worked to protect birds that provide a host of cultural, recreational and economic values. Birds are also considered indicator species, animals that warn us of serious environmental changes — like climate change — through fluctuations in their movements, habits and population levels.
Protecting migratory birds is an unsung but critically important part of environmental protection. So what can the Biden administration do counter these Trump-era efforts? Learn from history.
Since the late 19th century, the U.S. government has recognized the economic importance of birds to the nation’s farms. Before synthetic pesticides were developed in the early 20th century, birds were considered the most efficacious form of insect pest control, and the U.S. Biological Survey, an agency housed in the Department of Agriculture (and a precursor to today’s Fish and Wildlife Service), devoted time and resources to understanding the population sizes, migratory patterns and feeding habits of a wide range of avian species.
This attention to birds came at a time when their fates were imperiled by excessive hunting for market and sport, feather-obsessed fashion trends, industrial production and pollution and even scientific collecting. By the turn of the 20th century, there was a significant threat of massive bird extinctions. The dwindling passenger pigeon was the most famous example, and birding societies like Audubon, sport hunting associations and ornithologists banded together to press the government for action to halt these threats.
Birds were understood as a critical node in the agricultural economy, and in response, the Biological Survey helped to pass a spate of national and international legislation aimed at conserving migratory birds. Most significantly, the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), a federal law that codified a 1916 Treaty with Canada, gave the survey authority over bird conservation — primarily, at first, through regulating hunting.
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