A Look at the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

Mike Stermitz
Mike Stermitz

An environmental inspector and water quality specialist with over three decades of experience, Mike Stermitz conducts various surveys and due-diligence inspections as an employee of Arcadis. Through his activities with the global design and consultancy firm, Mike Stermitz has provided environmental inspections in accordance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Signed into law more than a century ago, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is one of the oldest wildlife-protection laws in existence. The original intent of MBTA was to protect bird species from extinction, a troubling issue that was on the rise in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The dwindling numbers of many bird species at the time was mainly the result of hunting for food, sport, and feathers. In fact, the market for bird feathers was so strong that it led hunters to wipe out entire colonies of birds, especially in avian-rich states such as Florida. This unregulated harvesting of feathers prompted the passage of MBTA in 1918.

In the 1970s, the scope of the law expanded beyond hunting to also cover certain industry practices that led to the needless killing of birds. To avoid prosecution under MBTA, companies in various industries, particularly energy, have worked with environmental specialists to implement best practices aimed at protecting bird species.

Recent changes to MBTA, however, hold companies less accountable for what has been termed “incidental” bird deaths. Some groups, including the National Audubon Society, claim that the new interpretation of the law puts many birds at risk, but the ultimate effect of the changes has yet to be seen.