Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

Conservation groups sue to protect migratory birds

This post was written by Nigel Bates, 2018 Birding Intern.

Led by the National Audubon Society, a coalition of conservation organizations is suing the US Department of the Interior over the new, and significantly weaker, interpretation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The lawsuit, filed on May 24, 2018, challenges a new Department of the Interior memorandum that removes protections related to “incidental take” of migratory birds.

Mono Lake hosts tens of thousands of Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes each summer, as an important stop on the Pacific flyway. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

Under the new interpretation, the only actions that can be regulated using the MBTA are intentional ones—such as hunting. Actions that cause unintentional yet predictable bird deaths no longer fall within the parameters of the MBTA. This latter category encompasses a broad swath of industrial threats, such as oil spills and collisions with power lines, and while they are not designed to kill birds, they are known to lead to significant migratory bird deaths nonetheless.

Mono Lake is an important piece of the migratory flyway puzzle, and protection from hazards along the entire journey is critical for the birds to survive. Mono Lake hosts over one million migrating Eared Grebes, tens of thousands of Wilson’s and Red-necked Phalaropes, and dozens of species of ducks and shorebirds. The ongoing effort to protect and restore Mono Lake is increasingly critical in light of reduced protections and increased threats to bird survival at other stopovers along the flyway.

For 100 years, strong MBTA protections have also been an important piece of the flyway puzzle. Unfortunately, this new, narrower interpretation of the MBTA instituted by the Trump Administration last December dilutes it so much as to render it nearly meaningless. This is a huge loss for migratory birds and the people who treasure them.

For more information on the lawsuit click here, and for more information on migratory birds at Mono Lake and how the Mono Lake Committee is protecting and restoring habitat click here.