Yesterday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced the addition of 186 migratory birds to its list of species protected by the MBTA. Effective at the end of this month, this is the first update to the MBTA list in 25 years and will bring the total number of species receiving federal protection under the MBTA to over 1,000. Because the MBTA protects the vast majority of birds in the country, it covers many species not covered by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) or other laws.
Similar in some respects to the ESA, the MBTA prohibits the “take” (e.g., wounding or killing) of migratory birds. However, unlike the ESA, the MBTA does not have a routine mechanism for permitting incidental take of migratory birds. Accordingly, there is no way to be completely free of legal liability if a wind project results in the take of a migratory bird. Project developers, though, can seek assurances from the FWS that it will exercise its enforcement discretion if the project developer implements measures to protect migratory birds, such those that might be contained in an Avian & Bat Protection Plan. The measures necessary to avoid or mitigate impacts to migratory birds are project specific and always result in some additional cost, whether through changes to project layout and operation, or supplying mitigation funds.
In light of this newly expanded list of species protected by the MBTA, developers and operators of wind project would be well advised to review their strategy for minimizing the risk of prosecution under the MBTA.
The complete list of birds that will be protected by the MBTA is available at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/.