Clinton Orders Federal Agencies to Protect Migratory Birds
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, January 12, 2001 (ENS) - President Bill Clinton issued a landmark Executive Order on Thursday that requires all federal agencies to avoid or minimize the impacts of their actions on migratory birds, and to take active steps to protect birds and their habitat.
The Executive Order directs each federal agency whose actions harm or could harm migratory birds to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop an agreement to conserve those birds.
"This Executive Order is a clear statement of the Administration's commitment to migratory bird conservation, and a recognition that the Federal government must lead the way in incorporating wildlife conservation into its actions whenever possible. By taking actions to protect migratory birds, Federal agencies can demonstrate to the nation that doing so is not only the right thing to do, but also something that, with modest effort, can improve the environment for both wildlife and people," Clark said.
The Executive Order does not alter any agency's overall mission or responsibilities, and directs agencies to conserve migratory birds within existing budget parameters. No significant impacts on state or local governments, private organizations or individuals are expected from the order.
In addition to avoiding or minimizing impacts to migratory bird populations, agencies will be expected to take steps including restoring and enhancing habitat, preventing or reducing pollution affecting birds, and incorporating migratory bird conservation into agency planning processes whenever possible.
Most bird species in the U.S. are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918. The MBTA protects birds that live, reproduce or migrate within or across international borders at some point during their life cycle.
Federal courts have concluded that federal agencies are subject to the MBTA's prohibitions on "take" of migratory birds, which includes harm to birds, their eggs and their nests, the Clinton Administration noted. However, some federal entities continue to challenge the scope of the MBTA.
The Navy has argued that the MBTA does not apply to federal agencies.
Under the President's Executive Order, within two years each federal agency taking actions that are having, or likely to have, a measurable negative impact on migratory bird populations must develop and implement a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the USFWS for the conservation of migratory bird populations.
The USFWS will develop a schedule for completion of these MOUs within 60 days that gives priority to agencies having the greatest impacts on migratory birds.
During the past 30 years, about one-fifth of the bird species native to the U.S. have declined at rates of 2.5 percent per year or more. The trend represents a cumulative decline of more than 50 percent over a span of 30 years.
Declines this large are considered to be biologically meaningful, even for species that are widely distributed and relatively abundant. These losses are not restricted to just one or two groups of birds - birds of grassland, wetland, scrubland and woodland habitats have all been affected.
"Birds are important, not only as a measure of the overall health of our environment, but also to our quality of life and our economy. Protecting them just makes sense," said Clark.
In addition to requiring consultation with the USFWS and consideration of migratory bird conservation for agency actions, the Executive Order also:
In 1996, more than 63 million people went bird watching, fed birds, or went on trips to watch birds and other wildlife, the USFWS said. They spent an estimated $29 billion on these activities, generating almost $85 billion in related economic activity, creating more than one million jobs and producing $5.2 billion in federal and state tax revenues.