2018: The Year of the Bird

The International Union for Conservation of Nature assessed more than 740 newly recognized bird species in 2016 and found that 13 of these species were already extinct—before they’d even been recognized as distinct species. While most of the 13 presumably disappeared a long time ago, several reportedly vanished within the last 50 years.

There will likely be more extinctions in the coming years, as trade, invasive species, logging, and unsustainable agricultural practices continue to push bird species past the point of no return. A stunning 13 percent of all bird species are now considered “threatened,” including the African grey parrot, the victim of unsustainable trapping for the pet trade and habitat loss. At the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 2016, the species was moved to Appendix I—giving it the highest level of protection under the treaty and banning commercial trade in wild specimens (see AWI Quarterly, winter 2016).

The Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA), a 1992 federal law championed by AWI, already eases US pressure on wild African grey parrots. The law bans the import of exotic bird species whose survival is most threatened by capture for the commercial pet trade. Prior to passage of the WBCA, the United States annually imported an estimated 800,000 wild-caught birds to be sold as pets—a statistic that did not even include the huge numbers who died during capture and transport. Following passage of the WBCA, the number of birds imported annually into the United States for the pet trade was drastically reduced—to about 5 percent of the previous total.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of another landmark bird conservation law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The MBTA makes it unlawful without a waiver to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell migratory birds listed under the Act. The law was enacted at a time when relentless pursuit of wild birds for their feathers was driving some species—including the snowy egret—toward extinction. Today, the law covers more than 1,000 species, including a since-recovered population of snowy egrets.

In recognition of the MBTA centennial and to draw attention to the need to continue protecting birds, 2018 has been declared “The Year of the Bird.” The National Geographic Society is featuring posts on birds each month on its website, with topics such as how birds help us and what you can do to make a difference.

Unfortunately, as we note on page 15 of this issue, not all are on board with the notion that bird protection is important: As a gift to the energy industry, the US Department of the Interior announced in late December that it plans to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act against intentional killing only—thus absolving the industry of the need to pursue reasonable mitigation measures. Such a reinterpretation of the law is reckless in the extreme. With bird populations facing so much pressure from a multitude of threats, now is not the time to clip the wings of one of the nation’s most venerable animal protection laws.

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