30 dead bald eagles in Maryland – how Virginia solved the problem, but Maryland didn’t

At least 30 bald eagles have been killed by a carbofuran in Maryland between 2009 and 2019. The toxic pesticide was fully banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2009.

That these poisonings continued to happen long after the EPA banned carbofuran is why U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Special Agent John LaCorte, who investigated many of these cases, referred to the problem as an “epidemic on the Eastern Shore.”

The Eastern Shore includes Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. Delaware has also had carbofuran poisoning cases, but what about Virginia?

Well before the EPA banned carbofuran, Virginia required registration of it. And then the state banned it altogether. Virginia knew there was a problem, they acted on it and that has made a significant difference in carbofuran usage and bald eagle poisonings.

For the entire, two-part interview with Ed Clark, president and founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, see links below.

Part One
Part Two

Virginia’s actions are in sharp contrast to Maryland, which likely has had more than 30 bald eagles killed from carbofuran poisoning since the EPA ban – all of the poisoning cases in Maryland (see below) since 2009 happened during bald eagle nesting season and it takes two, adult bald eagles to protect eggs, then feed and protect young eaglets in the nest.

  • 2009 – Cordova farm (2 eagles)
  • 2012 – Easton farm (2 eagles)
  • 2014 – Preston farm ( 1 eagle)
  • 2016 – Federalsburg farm (13 eagles)
  • 2017 – Easton farm (5 eagles)
  • 2019 – Chestertown farm (6 eagles + 1 great horned owl)
  • 2019 – Cordova farm (1 eagle)

In 2018 and after he was made aware that carbofuran was responsible for the cases in Federalsburg (2016) and Easton (2017), Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder was asked what his agency would do to ensure more poisonings didn’t happen. The clip is below.

September 2018 Interview

Eight months after that interview with Secretary Bartenfelder, the public found out about more poisonings – this time the state publicized it. And this time, the state responded with some quotes about their concern and the very first carbofuran pesticide advisory ever issued in Maryland.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan also shared on social media that, “Our administration is taking these incidents very seriously and doing everything we can to prevent further damage to our ecosystem and the Bald Eagle population.”

Since the state was taking this issue “very seriously” and as Governor Hogan indicated, “doing everything we can to prevent further damage to our ecosystem …,” one might think the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) was checking properties where these mass poisoning incidents happened – most, if not all, of these incidents happened on farms where food is produced and carbofuran can seep into the ground and water supplies. However, that didn’t happen.

“A check into your inquiry found no indication that MDE has performed sampling at the sites you describe,” wrote Jay Apperson, spokesperson for MDE, in an email to WNAV. “The Maryland Department of Agriculture regulates pesticides and it is our understanding that Natural Resources Police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the eagles’ deaths. The check into your inquiry to MDE found no indication that any of these entities requested that MDE perform sampling.”  

This email from MDE was eight months after Governor Hogan indicated the state was “doing everything we can.”

Since those communications about the poisonings in 2019, no state agency or official has publicized any of the hazardous household waste drop-off days that happen in the Eastern Shore counties where these poisoning incidents have happened. These drop-off days are where people, that might have carbofuran, can safely dispose of it and do so without any ramifications.

The USFWS provided an educational article to The Delmarva Farmer in the winter of 2020, which was recently published on this site as well. The state (Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Department of Agriculture) could’ve publicized this or even their own version of it, but never did.

When the EPA bans anything, states are able to enact their own legislation that is equal or more stringent than the federal ban. That was never done in Maryland.

Because there is no ban on possession of carbofuran in Maryland, people still have it and it’s still being used. According to retired U.S. Fish Service Special Agent Frank Kuncir, who investigating these cases for many years, a ban on possession would help.

The carbofuran loophole bill, which Safe Skies Maryland, a conservation initiative focused on human-caused bird mortality issues, hoped to introduce to Maryland’s General Assembly during last session was delayed. Their plans are to do so in the next session and this was discussed in a recent Zoom presentation with the Talbot Bird Club (the link will expire in early October).

Virginia was proactive with the carbofuran issue. Maryland has been reactive. And at least 30 bald eagles are dead.

Further reading –

The ‘Carbo Wars’

Donna L. Cole works for WNAV News in Annapolis. Her reporting about the bald eagle poisoning cases has been recognized with multiple awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists D.C. Pro Chapter. She keeps reporting about this topic because no one else is, it’s happening in Maryland and the bald eagle is our national symbol.

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