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Conservationists decry Fed's rollback of migratory-bird protections in Florida

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In the past, the act has been used to make companies such as BP pay to clean up the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, deter bird deaths from power lines or poison from the use of banned pesticides.

By Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Conservation groups are expressing outrage over the federal government's rollback of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The change announced last Tuesday would shield the oil and gas industry and other corporations from liability after acts that kill large numbers of birds, such as oil spills or open toxic waste pits, if the acts are deemed unintentional.

Mike Leahy - director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy for the National Wildlife Federation - said he sees it as another example of the federal government weakening environmental protections.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act includes protection of birds such as the Florida scrub jay. (VvAndromedavV/Wikimedia)

"This rule is basically the administration 'flipping the bird' and saying, 'It doesn't matter what Congress or the courts say; we can interpret laws however we want,'" said Leahy.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims it's "clarifying" the rule to provide regulatory certainty and cut down on lawsuits.

In the past, the act has been used to make companies such as BP pay to clean up the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The law has been used to deter bird deaths from power lines or poison from the use of banned pesticides.

Leahy pointed to a study published in Science Magazine that estimates the United States has lost 3 billion birds since 1970. That's one in four birds.

"Oil-waste pits kill somewhere between a half million and a million birds a year," said Leahy. "Power lines can kill nearly 70 million birds per year; communication towers, around 7 million birds per year."

Unless the courts do it first, Leahy said he expects the new administration will reverse the decision, but it might not be a simple process. Conservation groups would like to see a new permitting program that encourages companies' best practices to avoid bird deaths.

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