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Pesticides, Not Habitat Loss...


The loss of habitat is real in the corn belt, as are its potential effects on a host of grassland bird species, some hunted, some not.

But a new study concludes that declines of such birds, from the ring-necked pheasant to the horned lark, are more the result of pesticide use than any other factor, including habitat decline.

Below is a news release from the American Bird Conservancy. ABC didn’t fund this study, although it has contracted with one of the study’s principals, Pierre Mineau, for a related study that will be coming out in several weeks. “I won’t say that one’s a show-stopper, but it will get everyone’s attention,” said Robert Johns, spokesman for ABC.

Environment Canada funded this study, which notes Minnesota is the state exhibiting declines in the highest number of grassland bird species.

New Study Finds Pesticides Leading Cause of Grassland Bird Declines

(Washington, D.C., February 25, 2013) A new study led by a preeminent Canadian toxicologist identifies acutely toxic pesticides as the most likely leading cause of the widespread decline in grassland bird numbers in the United States, a finding that challenges the widely-held assumption that loss of habitat is the primary cause of those population declines.

The scientific assessment, which looked at data over a 23-year period – from 1980 to 2003 – was published on February 20, 2013 in PLOS One, an online peer-reviewed scientific journal. The study was conducted by Dr. Pierre Mineau, recently retired from Environment Canada, and Mélanie Whiteside of Health Canada.

The study looked at five potential causes of grassland bird declines besides lethal pesticide risk: change in cropped pasture such as hay or alfalfa production, farming intensity or the proportion of agricultural land that is actively cropped, herbicide use, overall insecticide use, and change in permanent pasture and rangeland.

“What this study suggests is that we need to start paying a lot more attention to the use of pesticides if we want to reverse, halt or simply slow the very significant downward trend in grassland bird populations. Our study put the spotlight on acutely toxic insecticides used in our cropland starting after the Second World War and persisting to this day – albeit at a lower level. The data suggest that loss of birds in agricultural fields is more than an unfortunate consequence of pest control; it may drive bird populations to local extinction,” Mineau said.

Many grassland bird species have undergone range contractions or population declines in recent decades. In fact, analyses of North American birds indicate that these birds are declining faster than birds from other biomes.

Habitat protection has long been considered a central pillar in efforts to stem the decline of grassland bird species, such as the Vesper Sparrow, the Ring-necked Pheasant, and the Horned Lark.

“We are still concerned about loss of habitat in agriculture, range management, and urban development,” said Cynthia Palmer, manager of the Pesticides Program at American Bird Conservancy, a leading U.S. bird conservation organization. “This study by no means diminishes the importance of habitat fragmentation and degradation. But it suggests that we also need to rein in the use of lethal pesticides in agriculture, and that we need to be especially careful about any new pesticides we introduce into these ecosystems such as the neonicotinoid insecticides. It reminds us that the poisonings of birds and other wildlife chronicled a half century ago by famed biologist and author Rachel Carson are by no means a thing of the past.”

The researchers focused on the extent to which lethal pesticides, such as organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, are responsible for the decline in grassland bird populations. The study found that lethal pesticides were nearly four times more likely to be associated with population declines than the next most likely contributor, changes in cropped pasture – an important component of habitat loss associated with agricultural lands.

The publication says that “…..large quantities of products of very high toxicity to birds have been used for decades despite evidence that poisonings were frequent even when products were applied according to label directions.”

The authors argue that only a small proportion of total cropland needs to be treated with a dangerous pesticide to affect overall bird population trends. The production of alfalfa stands out for its strikingly high chemical load, constituting the third highest lethal risk of any crop based on toxic insecticide use. Pesticide drift from croplands is also affecting birds that favor the adjoining grasslands.

Using data from the U.S. Geological Service Breeding Bird Survey for the years 1980 to 2003, the study found that declines of grassland birds were much more likely in states with high use of toxic insecticides lethal to birds. The species with the greatest number of declines included the Eastern Meadowlark (declining in 33 States), the Grasshopper Sparrow (25 States), the Horned Lark (25 States), the Ring-necked Pheasant (19 States) and the Vesper Sparrow (18 States). The states with the greatest number of declining grassland species were Minnesota (12 species), Wisconsin (11 species), and Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska and New York, all with nine species.

The current study relies on pesticide data from the 1980s and early 1990s, a time when organophosphates such as diazinon and chlorpyrifos, and carbamates such as carbofuran and methomyl, were still largely in vogue. Since that time, a new class of insecticides, the neonicotinoids, have soared to the top of global pesticide markets. Unfortunately, a major toxicological assessment soon to be released by American Bird Conservancy puts to rest any notion that birds and other organisms will fare much better under the new pesticide regime.
 

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I'm not surprised by this though habitat loss certainly must figure in at a pretty close tie. Modern farming practices and human encroachment practices must change or the future will see a continual degradation of quality of life for all things including humans. I think that one of the benefits of making news with programs and interests in wildlife recovery with programs like the WPRA's is that they help put a spotlight on the extensively destructive practices of modern industrial agriculture and unrestrained urban sprawl. I sure hope folks pay attention and act to reverse these bad actions. People really can be smarter than this.
 

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This is no surprise to hunters 45+...The bottom line now is... are they going to do anything about it? Those pesticide companies make a ton of money...you can't walk into sears hardware, Lowes, Home Depot, etc without walking into pesticides and insecticides...They are at every counter and turn...Big profit margins... I am sure they have their lobbyist to fight this common sense problem....
 

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The ABC understands that blaming Big 'Whatever' is the key to driving donations and action and high-fives.....does, in this instance, Big Pesticide take the top blame spot for the decline in the Vesper?
Doubtful, comparably, but it is likely a growing concern....as are all the concerns affecting any bird that has a narrow niche of survival.
Still, it is good that folks are looking and considering everything.

The ABC is also against lead shot in the uplands, citing that ruffed grouse and woodcock are one of the upland birds in dire danger from spent shot.
Now, having hunted grouse for 48 seasons, it would be a stretch for me to believe that ol' Bonasa U and the little bogsucker see much harm from pecking up spent lead shot.
It is exactly jumps to conclusions like that for which one must be alert re any organization, especially an organization which can possibly allow zealotry to override common sense.

The Internet can supply just about any info one wants to support just about any position on just about any subject...it is wise to sift all info well, along with all the agendas, cloaked and not, of those doing the surveying or reporting.
It's of course important to look at any species' life curve, but it's more important to really see, and understand, when decisions need made.
 

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Biologist can him and haw all they want. I clearly remember when and how extremely fast pheasants disappeared. The loss of habitat takes many years. Pheasants disappeared much too fast for a sound correlation between the two.

Everyone just about nukes their yards with chemicals...Your are not going to stop farmers from using it if you use it...
 

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Loss of habitat doesn't take long at all really. The end of pheasants in PA coincided with the end of the soil bank program when farmers took idle land and put it back into production. That happens in one year. Chemicals and predators play a role to be sure, but I'm still convinced that habitat is the number one overriding factor in the demise of any species. Just my opinion.
 

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It looks like they picked out five potential causes of decline. Didn't see predation from hawks and owls that have increased in numbers, in the five potential causes. Different to see habitat not being blamed. At the same time hawk and owl numbers increased prey numbers have dropped. You would think the pesticides would be lowerering hawk and owl numbers too, as they said DDT did in the past. Maybe the decline is from the increase in the hawk and owl numbers.
 

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bpottorff said:
It looks like they picked out five potential causes of decline. Didn't see predation from hawks and owls that have increased in numbers, in the five potential causes......
An ABC plumped study that does not address predation from hawks and owls...go figger.

'Course the study, supposedly, only was intent upon what role chemicals play....can't fault them for staying within the study boundaries.
It is their assumptions and leaps to conclusions that can be, at times, suspect.

Hawks and owls, or cats or hunters or weather or health issues or nest predators or habitat or deer feeding or progress or invasives or chemicals or a myriad other factors all play their part.....and the part they play in any gamebird decline changes as the position on the decline curve changes.
 

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The study references (all ground nesting birds) in grasslands. There are a significant number of studies that show chemical based endocrine disrupters have a negative effect on reproduction and a weakened immune system in all animals including humans.

Predation does play a role in grassland bird declines but it's predictable that areas where pesticides are commonly wide spread there would be a greater decline in ground and grassland dwelling birds that relates to their biological health and available food and cover. Other studies have shown a significant decline in song bird populations over all from feral and free roaming cats which tend to have more negative effects as they are not native predators and in many cases are assisted to survive and free roam by humans. Wild predators have natural mechanisms that keep their numbers in check. They will naturally produce less young when prey numbers decline. Wlldife biologists have proved that habitat for reproduction, food, and hiding cover have a significant effect on lowering predation.

If hawks or owls have a difficult time getting at pheasants that are in good cover they move onto eating rodents or something else which commonly may include carrion.
 

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cmrosko said:
If hawks or owls have a difficult time getting at pheasants that are in good cover they move onto eating rodents or something else which commonly may include carrion.
The quote of the week! Good cover neutralizes predation. We found no pheasant kills in our flushing survey of the 45 acre switchgrass field with over 100 pheasants. With a prey population that high, it would normally be a predator sink but the quality of the escape cover still protects them. The future of the wild pheasant plan in a nutshell.
 

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It's just not pheasants if you want any kind of game you need good cover deer, rabbits grouse and the list goes on they need a place to live hide eat and escape danger
 

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If anyone doubts that good cover will protect birds from avain predation just head for the prairies when the hawks are migrating through. We see far more hawks out on the prairies than you'll see here and the gamebirds flourish there. The reason is cover.
 

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Interesting that the article focus was quickly left behind for the more expected and trite factors of habitat and raptors.
Pesticides are simply one small piece in the jigsaw puzzle for many species.
 

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Love that video FLDBRED!
My dog would go nuts.

Fruit bearing shrubs, low growing trees and evergreens are another key element that I don't see getting enough attention in many habitat plantings. These are just as important as grasslands and are a major part of the pheasants native environment in Asia.
 

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OldDublin said:
trite factors of habitat and raptors.
wildlife habitat is not trite. It is paramount.
 

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bpottorff said:
It looks like they picked out five potential causes of decline. Didn't see predation from hawks and owls that have increased in numbers, in the five potential causes. Different to see habitat not being blamed. At the same time hawk and owl numbers increased prey numbers have dropped. You would think the pesticides would be lowerering hawk and owl numbers too, as they said DDT did in the past. Maybe the decline is from the increase in the hawk and owl numbers.
And you never will see it listed as a cause because it doesn't fit the modern day, Sierra Club biologists' narrative.
 
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