Conservationists speak out against use of weed killer dicamba

dicamba
Dickcissel breeds in prairies and grainfields in the central states, including Arkansas. Photo by Timothy Minnick

On Wednesday, February 20, conservationists, farmers, Audubon members, and others will gather in Little Rock, Arkansas, to testify before the Arkansas Plant Board to urge its members to limit the application of the herbicide dicamba in agricultural fields this spring. 

The board is considering whether to extend the cut-off date for farmers in the state to apply dicamba from April 15 to May 21. Opponents say the problem is that dicamba drifts from fields where it’s applied to nearby fields, parks, yards, and other habitats. 

“This is an incredibly important decision that could negatively impact Arkansas and its natural habitats, local farms, gardens, trees, bees, ducks, birds, and various natural vegetation for years to come,” says the Freedom to Farm Foundation. 

Dicamba has been tested on captive quail and Mallards and is listed as slightly to moderately toxic to birds, says Dan Scheiman, bird conservation director for Audubon Arkansas. 

It’s unclear how the herbicide affects wild birds in agricultural areas, but Scheiman says “Audubon’s concern is that dicamba will affect the native plants that provide food, including native insects, and cover for birds. When millions of acres of soybean and cotton are sprayed, the amount of volatile dicamba in the air could damage bird habitat for miles around.”

When the weed killer drifts, it damages trees, flowers, shrubs, and other vegetation that birds and other wildlife rely on.

The Freedom to Farm Foundation notes that Arkansas’ largest commercial beekeeper, Crooked Creek Bee Co., closed its doors recently “due to dicamba damaging or killing vegetation essential to pollination by bees. Arkansans are speaking out against this change. Shawn Peebles, owner of Peebles Organics said ‘This chemical cannot be controlled. Dicamba will not only hurt our local food sources, bees, crops, and natural habitats, dicamba threatens my livelihood and could put me out of business.’”

The issue “deserves national attention as it is not just a problem in Arkansas,” Audubon’s Scheiman says. “Damage to non-target plants has been documented elsewhere.” 

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If you’re in or near Little Rock and want to make your voice heard on the issue, contact Audubon Arkansas. It is mobilizing people to attend the February 20 hearing.

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

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