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Bird conservation news round-up, week of 17 July 2017

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This news and analysis are provided by the Ornithological Council, a consortium supported by 11 ornithological societies. Join or renew your membership in your ornithological society if you value the services these societies provide to you, including Ornithology Exchange and the Ornithological Council!


This is a new feature, to be published at irregular intervals. It is not intended to be comprehensive, because there's only so much of this anyone can take at any one time. Major stories will be posted on the home page of OrnithologyExchange. Please also visit the legislative database.


Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act reauthorization introduced in the Senate 

This is a renewal of competitive grant program initiated in 2002. 


Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) introduced S. 1537 on 12 July 2017. A House bill is expected in the near future. 


Initially authorized at $5 million per year, the authorization was last increased to $6.5 million. Appropriations have generally been somewhat lower (as low as $3.9 million). The House Interior Appropriations subcommittee bill that went to the full committee in July 2017 included an appropriation of $3.9 million. 


Legislation introduced in the 114th Congress to reauthorize failed (never got out of committee). 


These are matching grants, so the actual amount of conservation work that has been realized is far greater ($58.5 million to date).



Migratory Bird Incidental Take policy appears to be six feet under


In May 2015, the USFWS published a notice that it intended to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement evaluating the impact of a new permit and policy that would allow but limit the take of bird species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The basic concept rested on an acknowledgment that ordinary human activities do result in the unintentional take of these birds but due to legal uncertainty, the USFWS had limited ability to prosecute such take. The permit system would have allowed the take subject to requirements imposed by the agency. Most notably, this would have included requirements for avoidance and mitigation measures. 


Unfortunately, the USFWS was unable to complete the process prior to the end of the second Obama term. The new administration placed a hold on all new regulations (not uncommon) pending review. 


The Ornithological Council expected that this effort would be 86'd after review as this administration is hostile to regulations generally and particularly those that impose constraints on industry. Indeed, it now appears that this regulatory effort is officially dead. Although the administration has yet to publish the spring 2017 regulatory agenda (a compilation of all new regulations and regulatory revisions that are at some stage of development or approval), agency staff and others have confirmed that the USFWS has been instructed to refrain from resuming its work on this regulation and it has, or will soon be, removed from the regulatory agenda. 


Work starts on Santa Ana NWR border wall


For at least six months, private contractors and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have been quietly preparing to build the first piece of President Trump’s border wall through the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in South Texas. The federally owned 2,088-acre refuge, often called the “crown jewel of the national wildlife refuge system,” could see construction begin as early as January 2018, according to a federal official. The Department of Homeland Security picked the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge as the first site for a border wall segment because it’s owned by the federal government, avoiding legal entanglements with private landowners. CBP plans to construct an 18-foot levee wall that would stretch for almost three miles through the wildlife refuge, according to the official. The structure would consist of a concrete base, which would serve as a levee, and be topped with a fence made of steel bollards. Established in 1943, the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge is one of the top birding destinations in North America. The refuge is home  to at least 400 bird species and 450 species of plants. If the levee wall is constructed, it will essentially destroy the refuge, the official said. The proposed plans call for building a road south of the wall and clearing refuge land on either side of the wall for surveillance, cameras and light towers.


Unfortunately, there is a nearly iron-clad waiver of ALL legal requirements such as NEPA and the Refuge Administration Improvement Act analyses, not to mention Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, ESA jeopardy provisions, etc. under the REAL ID Act. And even though Congress has not appropriated funding for the wall, Department of Homeland Security may transfer money from within the agency to build the segment of border wall.







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