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USDA under fire for mass killing of birds in Nevada

Travis Kocurek, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman said a pesticide was used to kill the birds because of fears they would spread disease to cows. But area residents feel the USDA should have done more to warn the public of the impending bird kill and done more to dispose of the dead birds.

This is certainly not the first time a pesticide has been used to control starlings, blackbirds, yellow-winged blackbirds, crows or ravens, to name just a few. Actually, the little-known bird killing program was started in the 1960s, under the name Bye Bye Blackbird. The program eventually became part of the USDA and was housed for a short while in a NASA facility.

In 2009, the USDA killed over four million red-winged blackbirds, starlings, cowbirds, and grackles, using pesticides they say are not harmful to pets or humans. While the USDA keeps a record of their “bird culls,” there is another depredation program run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows just about anyone to kill blackbirds, grackles, and starlings if they say the birds pose health risks or cause economic damage.

While a permit is needed in some cases, the program is largely intended to cut through the red tape for farmers who usually hire private contractors to do the killing, and they are not required to report the numbers of birds destroyed. “Every winter, there’s massive and purposeful kills of these blackbirds,” says Greg Butcher, the bird conservation director at the National Audubon Society. “These guys are professionals, and they don’t want to advertise their work. They like to work fast, efficiently, and out of sight.”

DRC-1339 is an effective bird killing pesticide
So you may be wondering what the pesticide is that the USDA is using so effectively? It’s called Starlicide or DRC-1339. Starlicide originated as a registered trademark of the Ralston-Purina company, producers of animal feed in Missouri. The main chemical component of DRC-1339 is “3-chloro-p-toluidine hydrochloride” or CPTH. In 1966, studies done on the efficacy of the pesticide proved it was extremely effective on poisoning starlings.

The company, as well as the USDA, uses the term “non-target” birds to talk about other avian species affected adversely by the pesticide, and they freely acknowledge grain-eating birds such as quail and pheasants are more vulnerable to being killed inadvertently. Other bird species have also been killed by the use of DRC-1139, and basically, it can be said that the pesticide is lethal.

But the USDA claims they are doing a service to American farmers by getting rid of the starlings, because, after all, they are an invasive species. It leaves one to wonder what else the government is doing without the public’s full knowledge.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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