Posted on January 26, 2012 by Stephen Herrmann
Last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice, acting on allegations made by agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, brought criminal indictments against three oil companies operating oil fields in North Dakota, charging them with violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for acts resulting in the killing in the aggregate four Mallards, one North Pintail, one Red-Neck Duck and a Say’s Phoebe. The birds allegedly fell victim to the oil companies “reserve pits” — basically big holes dug into the ground to collect waste water and mud from drilling operations. When such pits are not properly netted, birds can get into these ponds, get covered in muck and die.
In dismissing the government’s case, the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota stated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is far too vague to justify such indictments. If inadvertently killing birds and drilling operations ought to be criminalized, Congress must state so explicitly. If the Act’s concepts of “take” or “kill” were read to prohibit any activity that could accidentally result in a dead migratory bird many every day activities could be criminally prosecuted such as “cutting brush and trees, and planting and harvesting crops, driving a vehicle, owning a building with windows or owning a cat.”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, here are some estimates on how many birds die from crashes involving:
Windows 100 million killed
Communication Towers 5-50 million killed
Power Lines 10,000 to 174 million killed
Cars 60 million killed
Windmills 39,000 killed
Even for those of us, bird lovers and hunter, who support efforts to save migratory birds, it is hard to disagree that if the court were to decide otherwise “many every day activities become unlawful — and subject to criminal sanctions — when they cause the death of pigeons, starlings and other common birds.” Such prosecutorial actions fuel resistance to proper enforcement of environmental laws.