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Federal Judge Finds U.S. Military in Violation of Migratory Bird Treaty Act

March 14, 2002
Washington, DC —

Judge Emmit G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment last week in a lawsuit establishing that the Navy and Department of Defense are in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by bombing and shelling a small island in the Pacific Ocean (Farallon de Medinilla, in the Northern Marianas), and killing protected birds.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, was passed in 1918 and implements several international treaties regarding protected birdlife that the U.S. is a party to. The MBTA prohibits killing or otherwise harming migratory birds in the absence of a permit issued in accordance with regulations. The Navy admitted that protected birds are killed by the training exercises, and applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for a permit to continue, but the FWS declined to issue a permit in 1996. Nevertheless, the Defense Department continued to bomb the island illegally, claiming that the MBTA doesn't apply to federal agencies.

On March 13, 2002, the Court issued the ruling and ordered the parties to submit additional briefs concerning the nature and scope of an injunction limiting or halting training activities that kill protected birds. A hearing in the remedy phase of the case is scheduled for April 30, 2002.

FDM is an island used by at least two-dozen species of birds, including at least a dozen species of migratory birds that nest at FDM. FDM is home to breeding colonies of great frigatebirds and masked boobies as well as the endangered Micronesian Megapode.

Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity stated "The ruling upholds the U.S. commitment to the protection of migratory birds and to meeting our treaty obligations."

Paul Achitoff, Attorney for Earthjustice stated "We are pleased that the Court has held that all federal agencies, including the military, need to follow federal environmental laws."

The suit was filed on December 21, 2000 and was assigned case #CV-3044 EGS.


Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity (510) 841-0812 x2

Paul Achitoff (808) 599-2436 at Earthjustice