[Tweeters] Re: White-collared Seedeaters will soon be easier (long)

Messick, Katie Katie.Messick at kingcounty.gov
Tue Mar 31 08:28:15 PDT 2009

Dear Tweeters community,

This is a plea to the scientist in each of you to take a closer look at
the flood of reports coming out of Laredo TX on the Border Patrol's
rather misguided attempt to do an aerial application of the herbicide
imazapyr on the banks of the Rio Grande, with the stated intention of
removing the "Carrizo cane" that illegal immigrants hide in. I think
they really mishandled the situation by failing to get public input or
carefully weigh all the options. However, a couple points that were
brought up in the articles linked to by concerned Tweeters need to be
examined more closely.

1. "Border Plants to be Killed to Reveal Smugglers"

Most importantly, although it's mentioned in small print far down in the
text of the article, it should be noted that "Carrizo cane" is the
extremely invasive species Arundo donax, more often known on the west
coast by the common name "giant reed." Giant reed is NOT good bird
habitat, and in fact has been closely linked to the decline of the
federally endangered least Bell's vireo, as well as to habitat loss for
other riparian birds, including southwest willow flycatcher and
yellow-billed cuckoo.

Although the white-collared seedeater is often seen in giant reed stands
in Texas (http://www.cerc.usgs.gov/pubs/center/pdfDocs/galvan.pdf),
Cornell Lab's Birds of North America indicates that this bird does not
use giant reed as nesting habitat; nor is giant reed one of its
preferred foods. Since giant reed is really an enormous grass, it's not
surprising that you'd find seedeaters there when giant reed is the
dominant riparian plant. If, as stated in the articles about the
project in Laredo, the areas where giant reed is controlled is to be
replanted with native plants, chances are that white-collared seedeater
habitat will increase, not be eliminated. ("The Border Patrol said that
after using the herbicide, it plans to make the river's edges green
again by planting native plants."

2. "Agent Orange-like Chemical to Be Used at US-Mexico Border"

Although the stated purpose of the Border Patrol is "to improve [their]
mobility and visibility up and down the river," which lends itself to
comparison with the horrible misuse of chemicals for jungle defoliation
in Vietnam, the herbicide they are proposing to use has little
similarity to Agent Orange, which contained now-banned dioxins and other
chemcals demonstrated to seriously harm human health. Imazapyr is a
relatively new herbicide, and so questions remain about long term
effects, and we are right to be concerned, but the short term effects
(acute toxicity and chronic toxicity over a short period of time) have
been studied
xious/risk_assessment_Imazapyr.pdf). Against an invader like giant
reed, the judicious use of herbicide may be necessary for successful
control. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is generally accepted as the
best management strategy for controlling invasive weeds. IPM evaluates
all available control options and uses the best combination of methods
for the site conditions and target plant (including manual, mechanical,
cultural (such as replanting), chemical and/or biological control) to
knock back the invader, and should also include extensive monitoring and
follow-up to ensure that the controlled invasive species does not

Not all herbicides are the same, any more than all drugs are the same.
You wouldn't use aspirin to cure a stomach ache, for example. You also
wouldn't use a whole bottle of aspirin if you had a headache. When the
right herbicide is used in the right way, the benefits can be enormous.
If an herbicide is overused, used in the wrong place, or used for the
wrong reason, the damage can also be enormous. With herbicides we tend
to focus on the potential damage rather than on the benefits. I urge
you to become informed about the specific herbicides being used in any
weed control project, but also become informed about the potential
impacts of the weeds if nothing is done. Remember, doing nothing is
also an action and also has consequences, as anyone who has tried to go
fishing in a milfoil infested lake (or looked for birds in a riparian
corridor dominated by knotweed or reed canarygrass) can tell you.

Humans brought these invasives here - think starlings - and I think we
have the responsibility to mitigate our actions - think bluebird nest
boxes. Please question the use of herbicide, please disagree with the
methods chosen, but do so from an informed point of view.

Katie Messick

Wallingford, Seattle

katie.messick -at- kingcounty.gov

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: https://mailman2.u.washington.edu/mailman/private/tweeters/attachments/20090331/78e5c74c/attachment.html

More information about the Tweeters mailing list