Conservation policy news

Vashon Audubon’s Conservation Chair, Steve Hunter, has been keeping tabs on federal bills concerning birds; his summaries are below. Find more information on National Audubon’s website »

Photo: Sarah Driggs

Moving Forward Act
On July 1, the US House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2) with the full-throated support of the National Audubon team. It now awaits action by the Senate.

Our economy has been knocked on its heals by COVID-19. This bill would provide $1.5 trillion in emergency spending for transportation, energy and water infrastructure projects that would go a long way toward addressing the issues of climate change. It would provide well paying, environmentally friendly jobs that cannot be outsourced, in many of the areas of the country hardest hit by the pandemic-caused economic crisis. There is funding for projects to restore wetlands, watersheds (including in our own Puget Sound region) and other ecosystems that are vital to birds and humans. There is much to love in this far-reaching bill. Learn more »

Representative Jayapal voted in favor. If you are so inclined, don’t underestimate the value of a thank you when our legislators do the right thing. It makes it that much easier to prod them to do the right thing in the future. And a call to Senators Murray and Cantwell to urge the Senate to take up the Moving Forward Act would be helpful, as well.

Growing Climate Solutions Act
A truly bipartisan bill to tackle climate change, the Growing Climate Solutions Act (S. 3894) has been introduced by four Senators—two Republicans and two Democrats. It is now under consideration by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Normally when we think about reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, we think of reducing human-caused production of these gasses through efficiency and zero- or low-emission energy and transportation technologies. There is another big part to this puzzle. Proper forestry and agricultural practices have the potential to remove significant amounts of these gasses from the atmosphere by storing them in trees, other vegetation, and soil. This bill would set up a consistent national carbon-trade program that would fund efforts by farmers, ranchers and forest owners to increase biodiversity as well as soil health and productivity. This has the added benefit of providing improved and expanded bird habitat while helping to avoid catastrophic climate change. Learn more »

A similar bill, SB 5947, was signed into law in Washington State on April 3.

Wood Thrush
Photo: Peter Saenger

Bird-Safe Buildings Act
A perennial effort by Representative Quigley of Illinois to reduce bird deaths due to impacts with buildings has growing bipartisan support. The Bird-Safe Buildings Act (H.R. 919) now has 46 cosponsors, including our own Representative Jayapal, and is under consideration by the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

It is estimated that collisions with buildings kill as many as one billion birds per year—second only to free-roaming and feral domestic cats as human-caused avian carnage. Changes to building design, materials and lighting can drastically reduce this toll, perhaps by as much as 90 percent. This bill would require that all federal buildings newly constructed, purchased or significantly remodeled incorporate these bird-friendly features. States and municipalities across country are working on laws and policies of a similar nature. And the architectural community is getting on board. Learn more »

This bill is unlikely to get to a vote by the full House anytime soon, but this movement is gaining steam and is worthy of our attention and support.

Photo: Sarah Driggs

Great American Outdoors Act
An historic, bipartisan conservation bill, the Great American Outdoors Act (H.R. 1957), has passed the Senate and House. President Trump has expressed his support.

Budget constraints and unpredictable funding levels have led to troubling degradation of our public lands. This bill addresses this issue in two ways. First, it provides stable funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund—$900 million annually. Additionally, $1.9 billion derived from energy development on federal lands and water will be redirected for each of the next five years to fund backlogged maintenance projects at the National Park Service, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education schools. This will help improve bird habitat and greatly enhance opportunities for the public to experience, and be educated about, the wonders of birds. Learn more »

Osprey
Photo: Jim Diers

Migratory Bird Treaty Act
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been one of our most important tools for protecting birds and bird habitat for more than 100 years. Recent actions by the U. S. Department of the Interior would gut this seminal conservation law. The Migratory Bird Protection Act (H.R. 5552), which would correct this damage, has been voted out of the Committee on Natural Resources and awaits action by the full House.

At the beginning of the 20th century, water birds were being slaughtered by the millions for sport and to provide feathers for the millinery trade. Numerous species were headed for extinction. The National Audubon Society was formed in response. Their efforts led to the passage, in 1918, of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which prohibited the killing, harming or possession of listed migratory birds (now more than 1000 species). Not only was intentional “taking” banned, but commercial activities that resulted in unintentional, but predictable, harm were strictly regulated. For example, the burgeoning oil industry of the day was required to cover the open tar pits created by their operations, which trapped and killed birds mistaking the pits for ponds. This is known as incidental taking. More recently, BP was fined $100 million under the provisions of this law for their well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The funds were used to rehabilitate injured birds and to clean up and restore habitat. The new interpretation and regulatory change proposed by the Department of the Interior would eliminate the enforcement of the ban on incidental taking. The Migratory Bird Protection Act would correct these destructive changes to 100 years of precedent. Learn more »

There are about 90 cosponsors of this bill, including Representative Jayapal.

As a parallel effort, the National Audubon Society is lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging these actions by the Department of the Interior. Many other conservation groups and state attorneys general have joined.

Photo: Sarah Driggs

National Audubon lawsuit
On July 7, the National Audubon Society filed a lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to prevent him from improperly reinterpreting the Coastal Barrier Resources Act.

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act became law in 1982 with broad, bipartisan support. It forbids federal tax expenditures for dredging sand from protected coastline and barrier islands (currently 3.5 million acres) to reinforce private beachfront development. The purpose was to save tax-payer money, preserve natural storm protection for coastal communities and to protect fragile habitat vital to shorebirds and other wildlife. Secretary Bernhardt’s “Excavation Rule” drastically alters this law without proper public input or environmental review. Learn more »

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