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Northern Spotted Owl among 10 Species Imperiled by Pesticides, According to New Report

October 30, 2019
lLindsay Larris, 310-923-1465, LLarris@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Washington, D.C. – Chemical pesticides applied to lawns, gardens, agriculture operations, and used for pest management, are a major threat to imperiled wildlife, according to a new report released today. “Poisoned: 10 American Species Imperiled by Pesticides” details how daily domestic and commercial pesticides—including herbicides, insecticides, and rodenticides—are contributing to the decline of many common and lesser known species of wildlife.

The report includes the Northern Spotted Owl, which is threatened by anticoagulant rodenticides used to control rodent populations.  These poisons are harmful to predators and scavengers, such as the Northern Spotted Owl, as they contaminate the food web and cause the secondary poisoning of wildlife who consumes a dosed rodent.  A class of rat poisons known as second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides – or “SGARs” – are particularly harmful to the Northern Spotted Owl as these super toxic poisons can kill with just a single feeding and, most alarmingly, they can persist in a rodent’s system for over a year.  Rodenticides are also found in nontarget animals such as barred owls, bobcats, mountain lions, and San Joaquin kit foxes—another endangered species.

“WildEarth Guardians nominated the Northern Spotted Owl for the report to highlight the vast – and unexpected – impact of anticoagulant rodenticides on our wildlife,” said Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program Director at WildEarth Guardians.  “While the use of super toxic rat poisons may solve an immediate problem, these products persist in the food web and threaten the very existence of some of our country’s most beloved species who play crucial roles in regulating the ecosystem.”

In 2019, California Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D – Santa Monica) introduced legislation (AB 1788) to greatly restrict the use of all SGARs in the state.  Efforts to pass this legislation will continue when California Legislature resumes in January 2020.  More information about the impact of anticoagulant rodenticides on wildlife is being studied in additional states – including Oregon and Washington – to better understand how to combat this problem.

“As we learn more about the unintended consequences of the use of rodenticides and other pesticides on wildlife, we must pressure our lawmakers to take steps to eliminate these poisons and protect our ecosystems,” said Larris.

In the U.S. alone, we spend nearly $9 billion annually on pesticides, toxic chemicals that end up contaminating the drinking water for as many as 50 million people, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A 2017 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that just two commonly used pesticides (malathion and chlorpyrifos) were so toxic that they jeopardize more than 1,200 endangered species. That report, however, was blocked by political appointees at the Department of Interior, including Secretary David Bernhardt, who now oversees the department. The Trump Administration then overruled Environmental Protection Agency experts and rejected a ban on chlorpyrifos, which is also linked to brain damage in children.

With their continued widespread use, pesticide impacts are felt across the web of life—from insects to mammals. The monarch butterfly, for instance, has declined by nearly 80 percent in the last two decades, largely due to eradication by herbicides of milkweed—the only food source for monarch caterpillars. Similarly, the Crotch’s bumblebee has paralleled the decline of many other native bees as a result of the use of neonicotinoids—a widely used but highly toxic insecticide. Native bees are important pollinators, not only for wild plants, but for agricultural crops, as well.

Poisoned: 10 American Species Imperiled by Pesticides:

California red-legged frog
Indiana bat
Pink mucket pearly mussel
San Joaquin kit fox
Chinook salmon
Crotch’s bumble bee
Monarch butterfly
Northern spotted owl
Streaked horned lark
Salado salamander
Hine’s emerald dragonfly (Staff Pick)

Endangered Species Coalition’s member groups nominated species for the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations and chose the finalists. The full report, along with photos can be viewed and downloaded at http://endangered.org/poisoned. The Endangered Species Coalition produces a Top 10 report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports are also available on the Coalition’s website.