Status of the MBTA, and Other Conservation News

In December it looked like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) might actually survive the past administration intact. Such was not the case, unfortunately. To quote “On 7 January 2021, the Trump administration finalized a new rule that limits the scope of the MBTA. Under the new rule (which President Biden has already directed the Department of the Interior to review), the Fish and Wildlife Service has declared that the MBTA covers only intentional, and not incidental, take of protected birds, memorializing a memorandum that was rejected by a federal court last August. The new rule — if it withstands legal challenges and efforts by the Biden administration and Congress to reverse it — significantly reduces the activities that would result in liability under the Act, and as a result, reduces the risks businesses and developers face.” The result, also, puts birds more at risk even as we must face the fact that three billion birds have been lost since 1970 due in large measure to degradation and loss of habitat, as well as predation by domestic and feral cats. To read more on the consequences of the gutting of the MBTA, I refer you to the National Law Review website. The good news is several states and environmental groups have begun work on legal challenges to the new wording of the MBTA.

In other news, the county of Los Angeles has passed legislation to protect the native toyon and elderberry under the Los Angeles Protected Tree Ordinance (PTO). These plants are not only California natives that are fast growing and drought tolerant, but they are very important as major contributors to erosion control after a fire. It would be exciting to see the county of Ventura pursue the same protection as we face an increase in the cycle of drought and wildfires because of climate change.

Chalk Dudleya
Chalk Dudleya Photo by CS Klabunde

In a recent posting from the California Native Plant Society (, the wholesale poaching of native California Dudleya has become a multimillion dollar problem. In an effort to stop the poaching, California Assembly member Christopher Ward (D-San Diego) has introduced AB 223. The bill “gives law enforcement officials and district attorneys the tools necessary for prosecution, and enforces penalties that are large enough to deter poachers…and make sit explicitly unlawful to steal and sell Dudleya taken from state, local or private lands, and establishes strong penalties for violations.” As noted in the CNPS article, more than half of California’s species of the Dudleya are ranked as rare. Please consider writing to your local state Assembly members in support of AB 223. These include: Steve Bennet (D) for the 37th district, and Jacqui Irwin (D), for the 44th district.

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