You Can't Live On Poison

You Can't Live On Poison

One of the guidelines for NWF Backyard Certification is reducing/eliminating the use of pesticides in your home/yard environment. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost is the fact that many popular pesticides have a nondiscriminatory impact--they don't just kill "bad" bugs. They kill the ones you want to have, too. Secondly, many of these poisons have a lingering impact. They penetrate soil and hang around, causing unintentional side effects for longer than planned. Many work on the nervous system of insects, and in high enough concentrations, do the same to vulnerable mammals, as well.

It is popular in some circles to bemoan the fact that DDT is no longer available for use in agriculture in the US or for the prevention of malarial insects in other countries. DDT is one of those chemicals that has a lingering impact, and builds up in the flesh of animals that consume other animals that live in water or eat insects. Our American Bald Eagle was one of the reasons that DDT was banned. The levels of DDT in the flesh and gonads of these magnificent birds caused infertility and thinning of the eggshells, causing the eggs to collapse. 

In the lower 48

, we were down to a mere 417 breeding pairs of our national symbol.

How persistent is DDT? The manufacturing and use of DDT in the US caused a huge blob of the stuff to accumulate off the southern California coast. Initially, it sat above the Palos Verdes Shelf. For decades. A later study seemed to indicate that the chemical had finally been absorbed or dissipated into the Pacific Ocean. A different group went to check--and found that the blob had just slipped from its initial resting place and moved further down the shelf. In 2009, the EPA initiated a clean-up of this SuperFund site. You can read more about it



DDT is just an example of unintended consequences. Remember that all pesticides involve risk. (Probably all herbicides, too.)  For years there has been a known link between Parkinson's and pesticides. In 2009, that link was verified in yet another study, and

linked to a specific pesticide

, to boot. If a chemical is designed to kill anything, it probably has consequences for you and your family, as well. Think cancer and nervous-system disorders. Read the information at the included links to learn more.

The real


of not using pesticides is that your yard becomes a haven for all sorts of insect life. [Oh, Goody!] Remember: butterflies are insects! When "bad" bugs appear, "good" bugs come on the scene to consume them. As will birds. Maybe not as fast as we might like in our drive-through-accustomed timelines, but they will definitely come. By not poisoning the nuisance bugs, you ensure a diverse buffet for the insect eaters. This year was my first year of harboring a Praying Mantis. I felt like I had hired a professional assassin!

A final note on the joys of insects: small spiders and other insects in your garden will encourage hummingbirds. Spider webs are used in the building of hummingbird nests, and fully 25% of their diet is insect protein. Bring on the bugs!

Thanks for reading!

Audubon Magazine Blog |

small wonders

small wonders