I am dismayed that the Trump administration has reinterpreted the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The Department of the Interior has issued a statement of guidance that releases an individual or company from accountability for the death of a migratory bird if their intent was not to “take” (read: kill) the bird.

In practical terms, it means that oil companies, responsible for oil spills like Exxon (1989) and BP (2010), will no longer be required to pay damages for the birds that are killed by oil spills. The Interior Department, now headed by Ryan Zinke, who has ties to the oil and gas industry, is tasked with protecting our natural resources, which include migratory birds and other wildlife. It looks like a conflict of interest from here.

Several years ago, I volunteered to help rescue birds after an oil spill on Moonstone Beach in Rhode Island. The birds that were still alive were taken to a makeshift shelter where they were washed in detergent to remove the oil. The loons’ calls of alarm still reverberate in my soul. Some of the birds lived, but many others died from shock or drowned before they were rescued. The toll was terrible.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Department of the Interior, led the rescue operation in which I took part. Now what will happen? Will the Fish and Wildlife Service still be charged with protecting waterfowl, or will those birds be left to die in the oil? Who will pay for the rescue operation? What will make these oil companies follow safety regulations when there is no price to pay for lives lost? Is the Department of the Interior just getting ready for oil drilling off our shores?

Fran Bodell


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