A "Do Less" Resolution

Kicking the pesticide habit means more butterflies for you!

How about a New Year's Resolution to NOT do something? So much easier to keep! Just keep it off the task list altogether.

One of the guidelines for NWF Backyard Certification is reducing/eliminating the use of pesticides in your home/yard environment. As in, not using them. One less job to do! 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. "Vulnerable mammals" includes your kids. The US EPA site (linked at bottom), spells out some of these dangers in this manner: "Adverse effects of pesticide exposure range from mild symptoms of dizziness and nausea to serious, long-term neurological, developmental and reproductive disorders. Americans use more than a billion pounds of pesticides each year to combat pests on farm crops, in homes, places of business, schools, parks, hospitals and other public places." Like your yard. There is a reason there is a skull and crossbones on those labels, folks. It just takes longer to kill us.

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. That's a smidge more than eight pairs per state. Getting these birds off the endangered species list was a huge triumph for science, but it almost came too late.

For more info on map, check the EPA link below.

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 

here

, but this particular quote is epic: "DDT is a pesticide that was commonly used as a deterrent against insects before its ban in 1972. When in contact with humans and other animals, it is known to be very carcinogenic and to cause a plethora of ailments, such as reproductive problems and cancer." So when somebody tries to tell you about how wrong it was that the government banned DDT, ask them which part they miss: the cancer, the infertility or the near loss of our national symbol the bald eagle.

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 

magic

 of not using pesticides is that your yard becomes a haven for all sorts of insect life. [Oh, Goody!] Remember: butterflies are insects! In addition, all manner of wonderful bugs and insects are extremely important to the fertility of your soil. Some of them chew up old plant matter and make it smaller or turn it into "organic matter" (yes, poop.). Some nibble the roots of your plants, stimulating the plant to increase its root development. Some create tunnels through the soil that allow air and water to move in, which lets these vital elements become more available to your plants. Oh--and some of those insects become food for other species you might like having around, like birds.

When "bad" bugs appear, "good" bugs come on the scene to consume them. As will birds. 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!

Sources: US EPA, "

Children Are At Greater Risk

...",

University of Nebraska "Increasing Soil Fertility

...," EPA "

Cleaning Up the Palos Verdes Shelf

"

*** You aren't dreaming. If you've been following this blog for a while, you may have read a shorter version of this post before. I am re-visiting some topics that I think are important enough to reiterate. Share it with your friends if you agree!

Lead Poisoning From Home or Garden

Lead Poisoning From Home or Garden

Ending the Year

Ending the Year