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Migratory Bird Treaty and Migratory Bird Treaty Act
This year is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) that called for the two countries to work together to protect and manage the migratory birds that they shared. This landmark treaty was the beginning of numerous agreements between the two countries involving the protection and management of migratory birds. It led to the passage by Congress in 1918 of perhaps the most significant piece of legislation affecting birds in North America, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which established laws to meet the conditions of the treaty. Although the treaty and the enabling legislation are often associated with laws regulating hunting of migratory game birds, the law made it illegal to hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell (except under laws expressly allowing such take) all migratory birds (and their body parts or nests) in Canada and the United States, thereby protecting most of the bird species found in the two countries.
The act has been amended a number of times including modifications in 1936 to include Mexico, in 1972 to include Japan, and in 1976 to include the Soviet Union (and later just Russia). Modifications have also been made to cover issues related to Native Americans and the taking of eagles. And other laws have been passed to consider endangered species, various types of habitats important to birds, environmental
pollution, and other issues important to birds. But through the years, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been the backbone act that provides conservation to most of North America’s bird species. And it all started 100 years ago.
Footnote: One of the most important precursors to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was the Lacey Act of 1900, named after John Lacey (think Lacey-Keosauqua State Park), a Civil War veteran and congressman from Oskaloosa, Iowa. This law limited the transport of illegally taken wild game and is still being used to prosecute cases in the United States.