Friday, April 13, 2007

Since when is a tundra swan a ‘pest’?

Hint: Try reading the Navy's environmental impact statements for the proposed Outlying Landing Field in Washington & Beaufort counties.

Governor Easley recently took issue with the Navy's plan to use a highly-toxic pesticide, Avitrol, as part of its plan to manage "bird air strike hazards" at the site.

The possibility that the Navy may need to resort to using Avitrol, a highly toxic pesticide unregistered for use in North Carolina, underscores how profoundly inappropriate the proposed site is for the OLF.

A pesticide is a poison registered with the EPA for use against pests. Under the EPA’s definition, a pest is an unwanted organism that poses a threat to human health or economic activity. A rat is a pest because it can destroy property and harbor disease. Under the Navy’s Environmental Impact Statement, tundra swans and snow geese – species carefully conserved at the neighboring Pocosin Lakes Wildlife Refuge – become “pests” on and around the proposed OLF site. Within the same document, the Navy discusses both conserving and destroying migratory birds – treating them as both desirable and undesirable organisms in the same management plan.

Common-sense pest management relies on preventing the conditions that give rise to pest problems. In the case of tundra swans and snow geese, this would mean removing the food, water and habitat that the pests – geese and swans – rely on.

In the case of rats in a school building, for example, removing food, water and habitat is as simple as repairing leaky pipes, tightly closing garbage cans, and sealing up holes in the wall. In Washington and Beaufort counties, however, removing birds’ food, water and habitat will simply be impossible. While the Navy does have plans to change some land use and farming practices near the site, the Navy cannot change the fact that the proposed site is essentially an agricultural area, full of food for migratory birds, nor the fact that the site is neighbored in three directions by open water. Those very conditions that give rise to the “pest” problem – hundreds of thousands of migratory birds – make low-risk, common-sense management impossible for the Navy. Therefore the Navy will have to resort to drastic measures that are far beyond the realm of common sense, including baiting birds with poisoned bread and pellets to discourage them from living near the proposed OLF site.

This plan does not only pose threats to the targeted bird populations, but to many other species as well. Avitrol is highly toxic to birds and to mammals, and accidental ingestion by non-target species, including songbirds, ducks, coyotes, dogs and foxes would pose a significant danger. If used on neighboring farm fields, Avitrol would put farmers and workers at risk of accidental exposure, and contribute to pesticide runoff to the estuary.

This drastic and wrong-headed approach to problem-solving belies the fundamental problem with the proposed OLF: it doesn’t belong there. The risks posed to pilots, neighbors, wildlife and environmental quality are enormous, and the proposed risk management techniques – like using unregistered pesticides to poison protected species – would only make matters worse.

No comments: