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Conservationists concerned for birds after rule change

If anyone is for the birds, it’s Polly Reetz, voluntary conservation chairman for the Audubon Society of Greater Denver.

“People like to watch them. They like to photograph them. They are inspired by them,” Reetz said.

But, she knows the reality is thousands upon thousands of birds are killed every year incidentally by energy companies.

“For many years, waste pits from oil and gas fracking have been a problem,” Reetz said. “Power lines kill plenty of birds.”

She says wind turbines are also notorious.

Previously, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, companies could be prosecuted and fined. But, President Donald Trump’s administration announced a change to loosen regulations on companies causing bird deaths.

“This move says, we’re not going to prosecute you. We’re not going to lean on you to do this. We don’t care,” Reetz said.

Her fear is that this will lead companies to abandon measure to keep birds safe.

“The good operators will do their best,” Reetz said. “The unethical ones won’t and they’ll now feel free to do whatever they want and not worry about incidental take.”

But, many in the energy industry applaud the move. The Western Energy Alliance posted an article stating that with the change the law should now be enforced fairly. The article quoted Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma.

“During the Obama Administration, seven oil and natural gas companies were prosecuted for killing 28 birds at the same time that wind energy companies were allowed to kill thousands of birds, including bald and golden eagles. Today’s solicitor’s opinion returns the rule of law and will help prevent the disparate treatment of industries and the politically motivated use the MBTA as a weapon,” Sgamma said in the posted article.

Critics of the Obama administration say its interpretation of the rule was overreaching and this move by President Trump makes it more balanced.

Still, Reetz says she’s frustrated.

“It shows that the Trump administration has a very callous disregard for the natural world. They aren’t connected in any way to it. They don’t understand it,” Reetz said. “They are doing what the industry wants and the rest of us can go jump in a lake.”