Controlling Wireworms Without Killing Wildlife in the Fraser River Delta

  • John E. Elliott
  • Laurie K. Wilson
  • Robert Vernon
Part of the Emerging Topics in Ecotoxicology book series (ETEP, volume 3)


We studied the poisoning of birds of prey and waterfowl by anti-cholinesterase insecticides from 1989 to the present in the lower Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada. It began as an investigation of causes of death of the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) with a focus on the role of lead shot. During the first year, however, a number of eagles and other birds of prey were discovered dead and debilitated from unknown causes. A forensic investigation revealed acute poisoning mainly by the carbamate compound, carbofuran. We subsequently showed that these non-persistent non-bioaccumulative pesticides did indeed persist in local soils from spring application well into the following winter. They could then be ingested by waterfowl as they intensely foraged across the delta farmlands. Seasonal and long-term trends in eagle populations and their winter foraging behaviour contributed to the high rates of poisoning. Carbofuran had been introduced as a replacement for the organochlorine insecticides such as aldrin and heptachlor primarily to control the introduced soil pests known as wireworm, larvae of the Agriotes click beetles. From 1990 to 1999, three organophosphorus (OP) insecticide wireworm control alternatives, fensulfothion, phorate and fonofos, were shown to persist and poison raptors and were each removed in turn from the market. In the early 2000s under the guidance of multi-stakeholder committee, the British Columbia Wireworm Committee, a fourth OP compound, chlorpyrifos, was introduced and has been used for 10 years under an integrated pest management framework to effectively control wireworm, and while it likely has killed some waterfowl, has not been linked to poisoning of birds of prey. Thus, with focused effort and cooperation among agricultural, wildlife and regulatory communities, effective pest control can be achieved without unacceptable poisoning of non-target wildlife.


North American Free Trade Agreement Pesticide Poisoning Bald Eagle Lead Shot Carbamate Insecticide 
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Sandi Lee is thanked for her tireless efforts to visit sites, collect carcasses, bleed and otherwise sample debilitated birds, and handle samples. She is also thanked for her help with drafting the figures for this chapter. Many others have been involved over the years in data collection and investigations. Principle among them: Pam Sinclair, Phil Whitehead, Ken Langelier, Malcolm McAdie, Vicky Bowes, Craig Stevens, Harpreet Gill, Patti Dods, Christy Morrissey, Anna Birmingham. The following wildlife rehabilitators are also thanked: OWL, especially Bev Day, Lynn Short and Monika Tolksdorf. Karen Morrison and Sylvia Von Schuckman of the British Columbia Ministry of Environment were very supportive of this work. Jack Bates of the Delta Farmers Institute provided valuable information. Finally, we thank the many members of the public who willingly brought in or reported sick and dead raptors and waterfowl.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • John E. Elliott
    • 1
  • Laurie K. Wilson
    • 2
  • Robert Vernon
    • 3
  1. 1.Environment Canada, Science and Technology Branch, Pacific Wildlife Research CentreDeltaCanada
  2. 2.Canadian Wildlife Service, Pacific Wildlife Research CentreEnvironment CanadaDeltaCanada
  3. 3.Agriculture and Agri-foods CanadaAgassizCanada

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