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Avicide Being Used in ND for Control of Blackbirds

Tuesday, September 1, 1998
filed under: Birds

USDA's Wildlife Services had begun a project to bait blackbirds in 20 North Dakota counties using the avicide "DRC 1339." The necessary environmental assessment documentation was completed on August 27, thus allowing the agency to begin the baiting work under a special Section 24 state label.

Nine counties in South Dakota also have been selected for baiting. However, a Section 18 label is required for South Dakota before work can begin, and EPA had not issued a ruling as of the date this issue of The Sunflower went to press.

Baiting can be carried out only by trained Wildlife Service personnel. The process consists of knocking down a site (one-fourth to one-half acre) within a sunflower field. The bait - placed on rice kernels - is spread on the ground via an ATV-mounted applicator. A blackbird that consumes one seed will die in about 28 hours.

What has brought us to where this avicide can now be used to control depredating blackbirds in sunflower?

The answer is that numerous people forced the issue. That includes individuals at USDA, the two Dakota state departments of agriculture, the entire North and South Dakota congressional delegation - and the National Sunflower Association.

"This product (DRC 1339) has been researched to death," says Clark, S.D., grower Vance Neuberger, chairman of the NSA Blackbird Committee. "It has been proven safe to nontarget species, but there are a lot of people in the wildlife commun-ities who have been opposed to the use of the product."

The tremendous financial pressure currently faced by farmers provided additional impetus for DRC 1339. For numerous farmers, 1998 is a "do or die" kind of year, and many of them are depending upon their sunflower crop to stay afloat.

"It really is this factor that moved the issue to the forefront," notes NSA President Ken Swenson, a producer from Flaxton, N.D. The avicide's safe track record, long trail of research - and the completed environmental assessment - obviously were of critical importance as well, he adds.

hat direction does the baiting effort take from here?

Neuberger says NSA has always supported the concept of blackbird popula-tion management. "As anyone who has fought this pest knows, simply chasing the birds is a lost cause," he states.

NSA will be working closely with USDA Wildlife Services to develop an operational plan for spring and fall baiting. Spring baiting has been in the research phase in east central South Dakota for the past several years. The blackbirds move northward in large flocks and then spread out across the Dakotas, Minnesota and the prairie provinces of Canada, setting up nests for the reproduction season. Neuberger says the spring population is easier to bait since food sources are more limited.

"We need to generate some good population dynamics to determine how many birds must be baited in order to have an economic impact on fall damage," according to Neuberger. "Then, USDA needs to expand the fall baiting - beginning in early August - to assist those producers being seriously hurt by the birds prior to harvest. We have to be controlling their populations in both seasons."

Sunflower isn't the only crop being hurt by blackbird depredation. Rice, corn, blueberries and several fruit crops also are impacted by this aggressive bird.

Many Gulf State communities are negatively affected as well, as the birds establish winter roosts in parks and other areas with trees. When bird droppings become extreme in these southern areas, humans are threatened by a disease called "Histoplasmosis."

Even airline pilots have weighed in on this issue, with their association expressing concerns about blackbirds causing serious engine problems during takeoffs at several national airports.

"It has become a human safety issue, as well as an economic one, for many parts of the country," according to Swenson.

Neuberger expects heated opposition from various groups as the avicide baiting project moves ahead. He notes that human lives and property are crucial ingredients in this issue. "Shooting a high-powered rifle over sunflower fields to scare birds is a human safety issue," the South Dakota producer points out. "So are some of the 'unmentionable' things producers do in a last-ditch effort to save their crop. Managing the blackbird population is the most sensible approach, and members of these groups would be asking for the same kind of help if blackbirds were attacking their primary investment.

"We are moving forward. Momentum is on the side of sensible population management."

This report was written by NSA Executive Director Larry Kleingartner.

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