The Migratory Bird Treaty Act has protected birds from destruction for over a century, but a new legal opinion could weaken the measure.
Birds were slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands each year at the turn of the 20th Century to make hats. This feathered hat craze soon alarmed many Americans and led to the Act which was passed 100 years ago.
"When the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was originally put into place it was designed to reduce the number of birds that were being killed, protect the birds that were out there, and it did establish a framework of legal hunting of waterfowl and game birds," explained Allison Begley with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The Act has been credited in saving millions, if not billions of birds across North America.
"Many of our bird species cross a ton of political boundaries that mean nothing to them. And without the consistent approach that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act provides, I think you could see a sinkhole in their population," Begley said.
Wildlife biologists in Montana have used the Act to conserve habitat; making the Treasure State one of the largest waterfowl production states in the country.
"It allows us to do things like improve habitat or offer recommendations to developers to improve how they are doing things to minimize the take of migratory birds," Begley said.
But that may change. Late last year the US Department of Interior issued a legal opinion saying the incidental take of a bird does not violate the act.
"For years under the Act, we have been able to work with industry for example with electric companies. They retrofit powerlines to improve them. Under the current interpretation, I’m not sure we would have seen that progressive approach, there would have been no incentive to reduce those incidental takes," Begley said.
Wile people celebrate 100 years of saving birds, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act faces its biggest challenge today. There’s currently a lawsuit over the change in interpretation of the Act.