Jan 17 2010
Some time in the next two weeks the people of State College, Pennsylvania will wake to find dead birds dropping from the sky.
If all goes as planned there will be 15,000 dead starlings on rooftops, in gutters, on patios, in gardens, on parking lots, playsets and fields.
No amount of advanced warning can prepare people for how appalling this will be but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying anyway. Last week the Centre Daily Times and WJAC-TV announced that USDA has permission to poison the large flock of European starlings near University Park airport because they might pose an aviation hazard.
Really? Well, they caused a plane to return to the airport three years ago. That incident did not result in a mass poisoning but last year’s crash-landing on the Hudson River has the FAA focused on bird strikes. For them, poison is appealing because it looks like the problem is solved when thousands of birds die. Unfortunately it’s not an effective long term solution compared to non-lethal methods.
But aren’t there laws protecting birds? Yes, but not always. European starlings are not protected because they are non-native and listed as a nuisance species. USDA is even allowed to poison protected species if farmers claim the birds are damaging their crops.
So will the poison be dangerous to people and pets? It depends on who you ask. USDA uses DRC-1339 which they say only kills starlings (or blackbirds or crows or whatever bird they happen to be targeting) but if that were the case how do you explain these warnings on the label and these rules for handling it?
- Those who mix it with bait must wear respirators if they are dealing with a pound or more of it.
- Bait must be carefully placed and removed to insure non-target species are not exposed.
- Treated baits cannot be placed within 50 feet of water.
- It is prohibited to graze animals or grow crops on treated areas for 365 days.
The USDA will be as careful as possible, but the fact is that they’ll be putting DRC-1339 into thousands of portable poison containers (birds) who will fly around the surrounding area for a short time and deposit it by dying in unknown and unpredictable places. It is impossible to fully control the process.
Whenever they conduct one of these operations people are appalled and outraged and when they make their outrage known USDA is not asked back again for a very long time. State College is about to go through this. Stay tuned for the results.
OK, I’ll climb down from my soapbox now. Just don’t say you haven’t been warned.
(image from Wikipedia, in the public domain, color altered)