Iowa conservationists are concerned a rollback of federal rules could put migratory birds at risk.

The Trump administration has announced it won’t prosecute the unintentional killing of species protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Iowa State University wildlife biologist Adam Janke says habitat loss poses the greatest risk to birds in the state, while loosening regulations could make the situation worse.

Janke says, “On top of all those stresses related to habitat loss and habitat degradation, we may add on top of that an unnatural mortality source associated with transmission lines or wind turbines or things like that in some locations.” The federal government plans to stop prosecuting companies that accidentally kill protected species. The law encourages oil, energy and telecommunications developers to work with conservationists to lower their impact on habitat.

Janke says wind energy companies have done a good job of placing their turbines in the state, but now, that could change. “You could end up with a wind energy complex right next to a major migratory stopover location for birds,” he says, “because under this interpretation of the law, there may not be regulatory mechanism to discourage that.”

Conservationists worry developers won’t be pushed to work with them if there’s no punishment for killing the animals. An estimated 500 species of migratory birds spend part of their lives in the upper Midwest.

(By Kate Payne, Iowa Public Radio)