The Debate Over 25 Birds

In last night’s Presidential debate, Governor Romney, when making his point that oil production is down on Federal land but up on private land, provided the following quote:

Second Presidential Debate (Image: Getty Images)

“So where’d the increase come from? Well a lot of it came from the Bakken Range in North Dakota. What was (Obama’s) participation there? The administration brought a criminal action against the people drilling up there for oil, this massive new resource we have. And what was the cost? 20 or 25 birds were killed and brought out a migratory bird act to go after them on a criminal basis.”

After the debate, USA Today did fact checking on this information and provided the following info:

The U.S. attorney in North Dakota last year charged seven oil companies with misdemeanor violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which carries a $15,000 fine, in connection with the deaths of 28…birds. The birds reportedly flew into open oil pits that they mistook for ponds, or were poisoned by oil that spilled into nearby wetlands. Charges against three companies were dismissed in January. Three other defendants reached plea agreements, and the charges against the final company were dropped by the government.”

No matter how you feel about the value of wildlife, the definition of what constitutes “take” by industrial operations, or the responsibilities of society to address potential anthropogenic effects on the health of the environment, we as oiled wildlife responders must be conversant with the issues at hand, and provide factual information to combat five-second sound bites designed to promote a visceral response from undecided voters in key swing states (which also happen to be emerging energy producing states).

I encourage you to read this excellent article from PressAction, which clearly (though at length) discusses the details of the Federal case brought on by the US District Attorney to (primarily)  Brigham Oil & Gas LP, a company now owned by Statoil – the 13th largest oil and gas company in the world with gross profits of over $13 billion US in 2011. In contrast, I also direct you to this article from The Foundry addressing what they consider “(o)vercriminalization in environmental law” and quotes the Wall Street Journal as titling the District Attorney in question the “Dodo of the Year”.

Only by being aware of the facts in these situations can we be effective communicators. So when this debate dies down and people forget about the 25 birds in North Dakota, yet an oil spill hits our shores or inland areas and 250 birds are impacted, we can present facts related to the MBTA and its value/application in a rational way so that we can get back to the care to those animals in need. All of this without worrying about developing sound bites.

Off soapbox. Sermon ended.

– Mike

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