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American Bird Conservancy response to Speaker Gingrich’s statement on energy industry killing of migratory birds

On September 11, 2011, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the leading bird conservation organization in the United States, issued a press release entitled: “Oil Companies Prosecuted for Avian Deaths but Wind Companies Kill Birds With Impunity.” On February 22, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary referencing this same issue. ABC has taken numerous press calls on this matter and would like to re-iterate its position on the issue of enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of our country’s foremost laws for the protection of wild birds, has been widely enforced for decades in cases generally similar to those involving the North Dakota oil and gas companies referenced in Speaker Gingrich’s February 22 letter. American Bird Conservancy believes that Judge Hovland’s interpretation of the law in this latest case was overly narrow and inconsistent with prior precedents. We feel that prosecution of oil companies for the foreseeable and preventable deaths of birds protected under the MBTA is warranted and appropriate especially since all the companies involved had been cited for similar violations in the past. However, ABC does agree with Speaker Gingrich that prosecutions may be warranted for similar violations of the act by wind power developers, who, in stark contrast to the oil and gas industry, have been given a virtual pass for the deaths of migratory birds at their facilities for over 30 years.

In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that about 440,000 birds per year (not the 39,000 referenced in Mr. Gingrich’s letter) are being killed by wind turbines in the United States. For example, since the early 1980s, the wind turbines at Altamont Pass are estimated to have killed 2,000 or more Golden Eagles – one of our most iconic birds. And yet not a single wind company has been prosecuted for MBTA violations.

The MBTA provides much-needed protections for the many species that breed in and migrate through the United States, including the hundreds of species of songbirds welcomed into the backyards of millions of Americans every year. These birds deserve the protection the MBTA provides, not only for their inherent beauty but also for the billions of dollars they generate for the U.S. economy every year – from the sale of bird seed, bird-related tourism, to their service to our nation’s farmers as pollinators and insect control. The MBTA should be enforced and that enforcement should be equitable for all energy producers,” said Darin Schroeder,Vice-President for Conservation Advocacy for ABC.

ABC supports wind energy when it is developed according to bird-smart principles. Bird-smart wind power employs careful siting considerations, operational and construction mitigation, bird monitoring, and compensation to reduce and redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss. These are basic measures that the federal government should include in mandatory wind standards. Click here to view ABC’s full policy.

In response to the issue of migratory bird deaths at wind developments, ABC has advocated for the federal government to implement mandatory standards for the wind industry, and has petitioned the federal government to implement a solution in the form of project permits authorized under the MBTA. A permitting system would make the wind industry compatible with today’s wildlife conservation needs. It would allow some take to continue, but would also impose conditions that would limit bird deaths and habitat loss, and compensate for any unavoidable bird deaths through new funding for conservation efforts. It would also provide the wind industry with the regulatory certainty that it has requested.


American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.