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Pesticides and Other Environmental Contaminants

Efforts to reduce the risks posed by pesticides and other environmental contaminants

More than 50 years have passed since Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book “Silent Spring” alerted the public to the profound danger that pesticides and other environmental contaminants pose to wildlife and humans alike. Since its publication, significant progress has been made, and strong environmental laws regulating pesticides and contaminants are now in effect across the nation. The environmentally catastrophic pesticide DDT was banned in 1972, and species that it drove to the brink of extinction – including peregrine falcons, bald eagles and brown pelicans – have recovered. However, major challenges remain. In its Migratory Bird Mortality fact sheet, the US Fish and Wildlife Service writes:

In one recent study, pesticides were estimated to result in the direct deaths of at least 72 million birds annually. This is an underestimate of the total deaths, given that delayed deaths from poisoned prey, orphaned chicks, and neurological problems were not included and the study site was limited. Oil spills may kill hundreds of thousands or more, depending on the severity and timing of the spill. Up to two million birds are killed annually in oil and wastewater pits, mainly in the western states.

The Audubon Society of Portland is working at multiple scales to reduce the risks posed by pesticides and other environmental contaminants to wild birds, other wildlife and human populations.

Our Recent Initiatives

  • Limiting the use of pesticides at Audubon Society of Portland sanctuaries: We use Integrated Pest Management Practices to minimize the use of pesticides on the properties we own and manage in Portland, near Mount Hood and on the Oregon coast.
  • Treating and tracking wildlife exposure to pesticides and other contaminants: Our Wildlife Care Center treats wildlife that has been exposed to pesticides and contaminants, and reports these incidents to state and national authorities to promote enforcement and regulatory revisions as appropriate. For an example, see the 2014 results from our study of lead poisoning in raptors admitted to the Wildlife Care Center.
  • Preventing and preparing for oil spills: The Audubon Society of Portland works on statewide task forces to reduce the risk of oil spills, and also trains volunteers to respond to oiled wildlife if a spill does occur.
  • Field monitoring: Audubon field research, such as our more than 20 years’ of peregrine falcon monitoring, helps collect long-term data on pesticide impacts to Oregon wildlife species.
  • Legislative initiatives: Audubon works on a variety of legislative initiatives to prevent the release of contaminants into the environment and to clean up contaminated sites. Examples of our legislative work are listed below.
    - PBDE legislation: In 2009, Audubon and Willamette Riverkeeper successfully teamed up to ban the use of toxic fire retardant chemicals in Oregon with passage of Senate Bill 596.
    - Brownfield legislation: Audubon is working with the Oregon Brownfields Coalition to develop legislation to promote the cleanup of contaminated brownfields across Oregon.
    - Portland Comprehensive Plan: Audubon  is working on the Portland Comprehensive Plan to ensure the city prioritizes cleanup of the more than 900 acres of brownfields that occur in Portland.
    - Portland neonicotinoid ban: Audubon, Xerces, Beyond Toxics and Center for Biological Diversity are working with the City of Portland to establish a ban on the use of neonicotinoids on lands owned by the City.
  • Litigation: The Audubon Society of Portland has initiated successful litigation at the state and federal level to prevent the release of pesticides and other contaminants into the environment.
  • Get the Lead Out campaign: One of Audubon’s top priorities is banning the use of lead shot for hunting in Oregon. Lead shot has been linked to the deaths of wild animals that scavenge or eat meat – such as bald eagles – and is the single biggest obstacle to recovering the endangered California condor. Copper ammunition and other alternatives to lead shot are safer for wildlife and people.
  • Portland Harbor Superfund: We are working to ensure the Portland Harbor Superfund Site is cleaned up and restored to health for the people and wildlife that use the Willamette River.

How You Can Help

One of the easiest ways to make a difference is to limit the use of pesticides in your own yard. Our Backyard Habitat Certification Program, run in partnership with Columbia Land Trust, is a great way to get started.

You can also join the Audubon Society of Portland’s activist network to receive regular updates about our work to reduce the use of pesticides and other efforts to protect Oregon’s wildlife. These updates include information about opportunities to get involved - emailing elected officials, attending public hearings, and more.

Additional Resources

For more information on the Audubon Society of Portland’s pesticide and contaminants initiatives, contact conservation director Bob Sallinger at bsallinger@audubonportland.org

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