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Here's yet another public policy decision by the Trump administration that the good folks at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce can probably get behind.

The federal government has stopped investigating most migratory bird deaths and, in fact, is discouraging local governments and businesses from taking precautions to protect birds.

All those regulations requiring investigations of large-scale kills places a burden on businesses, after all, and therefore isn't good for the health of the economy.

According to a recent investigative report in the New York Times, the state of Virginia was preparing for a major bridge and tunnel expansion in Chesapeake Bay in 2018, and engineers on the project were aware that the area that would be impacted was the nesting grounds of 25,000 gulls, black skimmers, royal terns and other seabirds.

So they planned to develop an artificial island to attract the birds away from their old habitat. But the Fish and Wildlife Service, under Donald Trump's tutelage, notified the state that it is no longer required to do that. The administration has "clarified" the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 to not only eliminate criminal penalties for bird kills that "come in the course of normal business," but no longer required to file reports of bird deaths. Consequently, the island has not been built while the bridge and tunnel project proceeds.

The "clarification" of the century-old law, of course, fits right in with Trump's assertion that the oil industry, in particular, has been subject to "totalitarian tactics" under the the law.

Oil and gas trade associations often cite former President Barack Obama's administration for prosecuting seven oil companies in North Dakota for the deaths of 28 birds.

"It felt like it was weaponized against one industry," Kathleen Sgamma, president of the West Energy Alliance, told the newspaper.

Any restrictions on fossil fuel companies, we've come to learn, amount to waving a red-flag at Trump.

Hence, now if a landowner destroys a barn knowing it is filled with baby owls, they would not be liable, as long as the intent was not to kill the owls. Nor would the spraying of a banned pesticide represent a legal liability as long as the birds were not the "intended target."

This all comes on the heels of rollbacks in dozens of environmental protections that previous administrations have enacted over the years, including major efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions that are directly linked to global warming and climate change.

Only four months ago, ornithologists at Cornell and Georgetown reported the news that the wild bird population in the U.S. and Canada has diminished by a third in the past 50 years, much of it attributed to climate change.

Birds are indicator species, they said, and serve as acutely sensitive barometers of environmental health.

"Their mass declines signal that the earth's biological systems are in trouble," wrote Drs. John Fitzpatrick and Peter Marra.

They also reported all is not lost — that the staggering loss of birds can be reversed with scientific conservation management and programs that protect wetlands.

But that, of course, takes an awareness by governments at all levels and, most of all, encouragement from the federal government. Instead, we are getting the opposite. The environment, endangered species and the birds are sacrificed for the "good" of the economy. It comes before all.

Aren't you happy how we are making America great again?

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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