[CT Birds] NYT: Toxic Threats to Grassland Birds

Arthur Shippee ashippee at snet.net
Tue Mar 12 23:10:24 EDT 2013


EDITORIAL Toxic Threats to Grassland Birds A study finds that pesticides are four times more likely to be linked with bird losses than any other cause.

March 11, 2013
Toxic Threats to Grassland Birds

Ornithologists agree that in the United States no group of birds is declining faster than the grassland species that live in or migrate through agricultural areas. These include, among others, various sparrows, eastern and western meadowlarks, bobolinks, horned larks and at least two kinds of owl. Scientists have generally agreed that the major cause is the fragmentation and loss of prairie habitat, the conversion of grassland to farmland as well as alterations in established farmland.

But a new study by two Canadian toxicologists raises an old specter. They found that collapsing bird populations were more strongly correlated with insecticide use than with habitat alteration — that, in fact, pesticides were four times more likely to be linked with bird losses than any other cause.

This would not have come as news to Rachel Carson, whose most famous book, “Silent Spring,” documented the disastrous effects of DDT on birds. DDT was banned in 1972, but it was followed by organophosphate and carbamate pesticides that were also highly lethal to birds. And while these pesticides have since been largely withdrawn from use, a new generation of nerve-agent insecticides called neonicotinoids could pose a further threat.

These insecticides are now under review by the Environmental Protection Agency. They have caused huge die-offs of honeybees in Europe and provoked an uproar among scientists, not least because the studies that purported to establish their safety were financed by pesticide manufacturers. We hope that the Canadian study, establishing a clear link between pesticides and grassland bird losses, will cause the E.P.A. to consider the next generation of insecticides in a more critical light.

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