By Tina Landis
Geese flying. Photo: National Park Service.
In a move that will increase corporate profits and further weaken regulatory powers, the Trump administration is relaxing criminal penalties under the migratory bird law for industry-related bird deaths. For the past 50 years, industries were fined for bird deaths caused by their operations such as oil pits, mining sites, telecommunication towers and other hazards.
For instance, after a 2016 incident where thousands of snow geese perished in the acid-laden waters of the Berkeley Pit — a Butte, Mont. Superfund site — the mining company instituted a noisy arsenal of fireworks, drones and remote-controlled boats to scare birds away from the pit to avoid further fines.
Recently, following assurances from Trump officials that conservation measures were voluntary, a road and tunnel construction project in Virginia destroyed the nesting grounds of 25,000 shorebirds. The American Petroleum Institute tried to place the blame on the birds(!) in a regulatory report, stating that “The birds themselves are the actors, colliding or otherwise interacting with industrial structures.”
More companies seeking profits at the expense of the environment will likely follow suit without intense public pressure to do otherwise.
Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe stated that the law’s threat of penalty acted as “a brake on industry” and likely has saved billions of birds. “Removing that obligation, if it stands, over the next several decades will result in billions of birds being casualties,” said Ashe. “It will be catastrophic.” (Manufacturing.net)
New policy adds fuel to fire of bird mortality
This increase in bird mortality at the hands of the aggressively anti-environment Trump administration comes on top of a broader onslaught ravaging bird populations throughout North America due to climate change and land use practices. Since 1970, a one-third decline in the bird population has occurred throughout the continent from the Arctic tundra to the Gulf Coast. (AllAboutBirds.org)
As the world warms up, migratory patterns and food sources are shifting, adding more stressors on bird survival rates. Land use changes that increase development and agriculture are destroying vital nesting habitats and poisoning species.
Why does it matter? Each species acts as a cog in the factory of the ecosystem providing a service to the functioning of the whole. Remove or deplete too many cogs and the factory no longer functions resulting in ecosystem collapse. Birds play a vital role in spreading seeds of plants in their droppings, reducing insect and rodent populations, and in some cases acting as a food source for larger birds of prey.
“Birds are important indicator species, because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be for people too,” said Brooke Bateman, Ph.D., National Audubon Society senior climate scientist. (Audubon News)
How can we stop bird decline and climate change?
First, we must build a strong and sustained environmental movement. Trump’s rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act further endanger bird populations. Both of these acts were passed in the 1970s as a result of the mass upsurge in the progressive movement. Only sustained mass pressure from below will change policies at the top regardless of who is in office.
We also need to fight for climate justice and for an uprooting of the for-profit system that puts the goals of corporations above the livability of the planet. We need to rethink where we live to preserve and restore vital habitats. Instead of building ever-expanding surburbs, we need to maintain and restore wildlands and build eco-cities filled with green spaces and vertical gardens integrated into buildings where bird and insect populations can thrive. (Basdogan and Cig, 2016)
We must shift to regenerative agricultural practices that partner with the ecosystem and away from the agribusiness model that requires intensive chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that poison bird and insect populations. (Food Tank)
We need to clean up Superfund sites like the Berkeley Pit so that humans and other species cease being poisoned. Renowned mycologist Paul Stamets developed mycoremediation — bioremediation methods that utilize mycelium — that successfully remove heavy-metal, toxins and radioactive materials from water and soil resulting in a toxin-free environment at a much faster rate and lower cost than traditional remediation methods.(Watson, PressBooks)
Now more than ever with the climate crisis looming, we need more measures protecting ecosystems, not less. But as the Trump administration has shown time and again, their priority is the profits of big business and a complete disregard for the health of people and the planet.