Conservation Column: Support Efforts to Ban the Use of Harmful Pesticides in Oregon

Most of us are aware of the alarming decline in populations of pollinators and other beneficial insects. This affects all of us, our food supply, and the birds that we love. In addition to habitat loss, pesticides use is a major culprit. Recent investigations have found pesticide residue everywhere, in the body tissues of people and animals, in the food we buy at our supermarkets, and even (sorry about this) in our beer and wine.

Some of the worst offenders are in the neonicotinoid and organophosphate families of pesticides, including frequently used chlorpyrifos, one of the most harmful insecticides. It is applied on several common crops, our fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains. Concentrated doses are in the seeds and pellets used to grow crops, many of which are especially attractive to birds. Bees are considered to be at an especially elevated risk of harm due to chlorpyrifos’ high toxicity and prevalence in pollen and honey. 

The Environmental Protection Agency’s own analysis found chlorpyrifos “likely to adversely affect” about 97% of threatened and endangered animals including over 100 species of listed birds. In birds, incidences of poisoning, weight loss, and alteration of migratory orientation have been reported. It remains toxic in aquatic environments, where it threatens listed salmon, steelhead, and other fish, as well as other aquatic animals, such as orcas. 

Among several ill effects on people, it has been shown to have detrimental effects in children on the development of their brains and on their motor development, even at very low exposure levels. A plethora of evidence on the harmful effects of chlorpyrifos led the Environmental Protection Agency to propose a ban on its use. It was noted at the time that a diverse array of alternative crop protection practices exist. But in 2017, the then-new, now ex-EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, reversed the ban. Currently, the use of this poison remains legal and, unfortunately, widespread in our country. So if the federal protection agency failed to protect us, what can we do?

Legislation at the state level is a significant tool. Two bills this year in the Oregon legislature could make a difference. House Bill 3058 and Senate Bill 853 both “Prohibit sale, purchase or use of pesticide chlorpyrifos.” The proposed legislation also places neonicotinoids on Oregon’s list of restricted-use pesticides. Hawai’i has banned chlorpyrifos. Other states are restricting its use. When we try to adopt least harmful practices, we need to think of levels of hierarchy. I’m reminded of a see-saw chant we use to sing: “Where’s your money? In my pocket. Where’s your pocket? In my pants. Where’s your pants? In my house? Where’s your house?” We would then move on to street, neighborhood, city, and state. (I was a nerd, so I’d add planet and solar system and galaxy.) 

We share the planet, but to best support it, we need to work from the ground up, literally. Let’s plant native vegetation for wildlife and keep our yards free of poisons. We can encourage our neighbors to do the same. Let’s support the city in restricting pesticide use. (Note that Eugene became the first city in the nation to ban the use of neonics on city property.) While we continue to push at the national level for the EPA to do its job properly, we can enact reform at the state level. Help protect our children and wildlife including the birds and the bees. Please contact your representatives and let them know that you support House Bill 3058 and Senate Bill 853. 

To find your legislator: tinyurl.com/zzz854e