Poisoned eagles a growing concern in region
Thirteen bald eagles were found dead on a Maryland farm in 2016, inspiring a brief flurry of nationwide media attention and mostly unanswered questions about the cause.
That story quietly ended late last month when a freshly released federal lab report said six of the eagles were poisoned by carbofuran, a once-popular but now-banned agricultural pesticide.
It was a troubling conclusion that’s far too common in the region, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official said last week.
Over the last decade, between one and five bald eagles have been poisoned in Maryland and Delaware each year — usually by carbofuran, said Bruce Corley, one of the agency’s special agents on the Eastern Shore.
Nationwide poisoning data wasn’t immediately available last week, but Corley said the problem in Maryland and Delaware is uniquely problematic.
In Virginia, for instance, he said he recalls only one or two eagle poisonings since he arrived in Maryland in 2008.
“I’m tired of going out and picking up dead stuff to be perfectly honest with you,” he said. “This isn’t something we should be doing at this rate.”
Bald eagles usually ingest the poison while interacting with carcasses of animals likely targeted with tainted bait — nuisance pests, such as foxes and raccoons, he said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service manages bald and golden eagle populations across the country because they’re protected under federal law. Bald eagles were nearly driven to extinction four decades ago due to habitat loss, illegal shooting and poisoning.
Carbofuran, known more commonly by its brand name Furadan, was first banned in the United States in its granular form in the mid-1990s because it was deemed too deadly to migratory birds.
The Environmental Protection Agency banned the product entirely from the U.S. market in 2009, saying it posed an unacceptable health risk, particularly to children.
Furadan is manufactured by FMC Corp., a Philadelphia-based chemical company. Its officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Although Corley said the Justice Department has prosecuted and fined Shore residents for various poisonings, they’re often hard to investigate.
Corley said it’s unclear to him why carbofuran poisonings continue to occur despite the illegality of the product.
“We’ve talked to many, many people out here, and nobody knows what’s going on,” he said. “When this happens, people are not bragging about it, they’re not talking about it, they don’t want to get in trouble for it.”
Before it was outlawed, states across the Mid-Atlantic, including Maryland, placed restrictions on carbofuran use after it was blamed for a series of high-profile bird kills across the country.
In 1991, Maryland had not experienced a carbofuran poisoning since 1988, according to a Baltimore Sun report at the time.
Maryland farmers used about 260,000 pounds of carbofuran in 1988, mostly on cornfields, making in the ninth-most popular pesticide in the state, the Sun reported, though its use was in rapid decline.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has given presentations to local farm groups on the consequences of carbofuran misuse and alternatives to predator control, such as the USDA’s Wildlife Services program, that don’t result in secondary poisoning, the service said in a statement.
But the poisonings persist in Maryland and Delaware, Corley said.
“This has been an issue that’s been going on in this area since the ‘70s and ‘80s,” he said. “I knew about it before I even arrived in this area. … This is not something that just started.”
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