Pesticides: Who Are You Eliminating?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Black-capped Chickadee photo by Craig Kerns
By Christine Southwick

The problem is not that pesticides, herbicides, and biocides kill whatever they are advertised to kill; it is that they keep on killing….

Herbicides kill weeds, but they also kill worms, ground beetles, and other beneficial organisms in the soil. Herbicides commonly get into the ground water, and into our local streams killing aquatic plants and organisms, thereby killing the fish that eat them. 

And the longer the life of the herbicide, the more likely it will spread far beyond its intended range, and with our wet weather, it will get into the ground water and into our streams. Even dilution does not make these herbicides safe. Thornton Creek has had documented episodes of fish-kill blamed on herbicides and pesticides. All local streams and the Sound itself have tested with high enough levels to compromise many aquatic species.

Pesticides are deadly to many organisms, including humans. Not only are many pesticides very potent, but they are usually sprayed on, often becoming airborne for several adjacent backyards. This means that you could be unintentionally poisoning your neighbors’ children, pets, and any wildlife nearby, when you spray your roses with the latest and greatest, most effective spray.

Great blue heron with fish.  Photo by Kenneth Trease.jpg
Approximately 672 million birds a year are directly exposed to pesticides; 10% die outright. No one knows the percentage of birds that fall ill later. Birds that eat poisoned insects, or fish, or rats, die from eating them; and any birds that eat those sick birds also die. The food-chain effects of DDT, and of rat poisons, on raptors has been seen.

Systemic insecticides are suspected as a cause for bee “colony collapse disorder.” Both seed and foliar applications (Ed. Foliar feeding is a technique of feeding plants by applying liquid fertilizer directly to their leaves) appear to poison the pollen that bees need.

It is estimated that half of the ever-increasing toxic mix is created by homeowners using weed killers on their lawns and spraying insecticides on their garden plants.

Violet-green swallow feeding young. Photo by John Riegsecker

Organic gardening, especially using native plants that are naturally hardy in this area, is the healthiest answer.

Nature isn’t perfect. Your garden shouldn’t be either. A few holes in leaves means that the garden is supporting local wildlife; be it cutter bees, bugs that birds feed their young, or caterpillars that become the local butterflies.

Just because there are some bugs and weeds that are less desirable to humans, doesn’t mean that birds and other wildlife don’t need them. Bugs and weeds are food.

Christine Southwick is on the Board of the Puget Sound Bird Observatory and is their Winter Urban Color-banding Project Manager. She is a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat Steward, having completed their forty hour class. We're happy that she's sharing her expertise with us about the birds in our backyards.


Green Gardener,  June 18, 2011 at 12:22 PM  

Right on, Christine. The people who owned our house before us dumped tons of chemicals on the yard trying to keep the lawn green, control bugs & weeds. Their little dog had seizure all the time - makes you wonder.

It took some time but through simple soil amendment, choosing the right plants, and just keeping on top of pulling the weeds when they did pop up our yard looks better than it every did for them. We have less weed problem and the terrible grub issue we had when we first moved in has completely cleared. Even the lovely worms are back in droves.

The stand of cedar trees in the back yard looks so much healthier, too.

It's not hard to not use chemicals - in fact, I think it's easier.

GrrlScientist June 20, 2011 at 2:35 PM  

well-written piece, lovely photographs. thank you for sharing!

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