Where You Operate Matters: the Fifth Circuit Widens the Split on MBTA Liability

Last week the Fifth Circuit issued a ruling that reduces uncertainty regarding criminal liability for taking migratory birds. In particular, the ruling alleviates potential liability for facilities where interactions with migratory birds are effectively unavoidable—such as wind production facilities, power transmission lines, and other energy production or manufacturing facilities. These types of facilities face a fundamental tension under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (“MBTA”): on the one hand, the MBTA imposes strict criminal liability for the take of migratory birds; and on the other hand, there is no permit available to authorize the unintentional take of migratory birds. The Fifth Circuit’s ruling joins other circuits around the country in holding that the MBTA applies only to the intentional take of migratory birds; however, the court’s ruling widens the split between circuits that differ in how MBTA liability applies.

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