NRECA has long advocated for the removal of liability in the unintentional death or injury of migratory birds. Now, a federal agency is taking an important step toward greater clarity for rural cooperatives.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that unintentional bird deaths or injury involving electric power lines would not be in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“Electric cooperatives have been hampered by legal uncertainty over compliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, even though they are dedicated to reducing impacts of electrical equipment on migratory birds,” said Louis Finkel, NRECA’s senior vice president of government relations.

“We support the administration’s efforts to provide clarity and certainty on this issue as electric co-ops continue voluntary practices to preserve wildlife while enhancing reliability of the electric system.”

The proposal specifies that the scope of the MBTA extends only to actions purposefully directed at “taking” birds, their nests, or their eggs. USFWS said “conduct that results in the unintentional (incidental) injury or death of migratory birds is not prohibited under the act.”

The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on Feb. 3 and is open to public comment through March 19.

NRECA plans to submit comments to the agency and will hold a three-part webinar series in March discussing migratory bird issues and the release of an Avian Protection Toolkit. The toolkit will provide members with resources to improve system reliability while voluntarily minimizing avian interactions.

“With five federal circuit courts of appeals divided on this question, it is important to bring regulatory certainty to the public by clarifying that the criminal scope of the MBTA only reaches to conduct intentionally injuring birds,” said Rob Wallace, USFWS assistant secretary.

USFWS will continue to collaborate with states, conservation groups, trade associations and others “to ensure that best practices are followed to minimize unintended harm to birds and their habitats,” he said.