[mou] poisoning blackbirds?
Fri, 6 Apr 2007 21:29:14 -0500
This is excerpted from an AP article published 25 March in several
North Dakota newspapers.
Demand for healthier sunflower oil for potato chip frying is spurring a
debate about whether millions of blackbirds should die to make it
easier to raise the crop.
Demand is rising for NuSun, a sunflower variety that produces oil with
less saturated fat and no trans fat, said John Sandbakken,
international marketing director for the National Sunflower
Association. Saturated and trans fats help clog arteries and increase
the risk of heart disease.
One big reason for NuSun's increased popularity is the decision by the
Frito-Lay snack food company to use NuSun oil to cook its major brands
of potato chips, Sandbakken said. The company announced the switch in
May 2006, and sunflower plantings need to rise by 600,000 acres next
year to meet the new demand, he said.
But a big roadblock to increased sunflower production is blackbirds,
which feast on the oilseed crop.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the birds cause about $10
million in damage each year to sunflowers in North Dakota, which
produces about half of the nation's sunflower output. Last year's North
Dakota sunflower crop was valued at $158 million.
The North Dakota Legislature is considering a bill to spend $79,500 to
help in a federal effort to control blackbirds. One of the methods
would involve baiting and killing the birds.
Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon
Society, said finding a blackbird solution may take more money than the
Legislature appears willing to provide.
"I have to sympathize with the problem. You're basically ... trying to
keep birds from eating birdseed," he said. "It's a tough problem. I
don't expect the solution is going to be as easy or cheap as they would
like it to be."
The project would include common methods, including noise cannons that
scare the blackbirds, as well as a new one - poisoning blackbirds with
bait along gravel roads. The birds land on gravel roads to get the grit
their gizzards need to help digest food.
"Roadside baiting, coupled with existing methods, may be the answer,"
Supporters of using poisoned bait say other control methods only move
blackbirds from one field to another, while opponents say the poison
will kill more than just blackbirds.
"The first thing that comes to my mind - aren't pheasants kind of
important to you folks up there?" said Butcher, whose office is in
Research in Louisiana and Texas of a similar blackbird baiting method
in rice fields found that mourning doves and meadowlarks were most
affected of all non-targeted birds. Both birds are prevalent in North
Dakota, and the western meadowlark is the state bird.
"The chemical will interact with mourning doves and meadowlarks in
Texas identically to a meadowlark and mourning dove in North Dakota,"
said Kevin Johnson, an environmental contaminant specialist with the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency, which has opposed blackbird baiting programs in the past,
does not take positions on state legislation, spokesman Ken Torkelson
The National Audubon Society is opposing the bill, said state director
Genevieve Thompson. "It just seems like a more integrated approach that
does use nonlethal methods does make more sense," she said.
Poisoning migratory birds is illegal, but Fish and Wildlife allows the
killing of blackbirds without an agency permit if the birds are
damaging crops or about to damage crops, Johnson said.
The agency denied a permit in March 2000 for USDA to poison about 2
million blackbirds in the Dakotas. The permit requested a spring
baiting, when the birds would not have been damaging crops. It was
intended to cut down blackbird numbers when the sunflower crop matured
in the fall.
Johnson said officials also worried that other birds would be killed.
If the roadside baiting program also affects non-targeted birds, "then
we're back to that same issue," he said.
The blackbird baiting program would include monitoring of other bird
species. Linz said the bait would be put in trays, using woven wire to
screen out pheasants, doves and other birds.