Though Bald Eagle Poisoning Cases Have Been Happening for Years, a Law that Could Help Was Never Enacted in Maryland

Retired federal agent, who investigated many of these cases and was among a small group responsible for the EPA banning carbofuran, says state law could help bring cases to justice

Carbofuran is a federally banned pesticide – it was banned in 2009 in the United States, but a phase-out had started in 1991. Like other chemicals or pesticides the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bans, it’s up to the individual states to enact their own laws, if needed, that are equally or more stringent than the federal law. A more stringent law, such as one that makes the possession of carbofuran illegal. was never enacted in Maryland, despite a lengthy and well-documented history of carbofuran poisoning of bald eagles and other wildlife in the state. Carbofuran is toxic to wildlife and humans.

Why would such a law make a difference? Many of the cases involving the poisoning of bald eagles and other wildlife, for various reasons, have not been prosecuted, despite efforts by law enforcement. If possession of carbofuran was made illegal by Maryland, that could potentially be the proverbial smoking gun. The information below was received from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Some of this is redacted by USFWS.

Carbofuran has been used repeatedly on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia to purposely kill wildlife. The most recent cases happened in March and April of this year (2019). The vast majority of these killings have happened during hunting season (waterfowl) – all of these cases happened on or near farms. Most of these cases also happened during bald eagle nesting season, thus the actual number of bald eagles poisoned is impossible to quantify – not only can the poison be passed to eaglets in nests by their parents, the viability of eggs and the survival young eaglets is dependent on two parents tending to them.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Is there an estimate for the number of dead bald eagles in recent history. Yes – 35.

Are bald eagles being specifically targeted. They have been targeted in the past, according to information received from the USFWS, following a FOIA request, although the method of killing them wasn’t exclusive to carbofuran. Again, some of this was redacted by USFWS.

If bald eagles and other wildlife are being targeted, who’s doing it and why? For those answers, you’ll want to listen to the two-part interview with Frank Kuncir, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent. He investigated wildlife crimes for 32 years, including many of the Delmarva bald eagle poisoning cases. And he was among a small group responsible for the EPA banning carbofuran. His knowledge of these cases is extensive.

Part one of interview –

Part two of interview –

If you listened to part two of that interview above, you’ve heard Frank Kuncir say, “Certainly … a state law to make it illegal to possess with a realistic time frame for initiation in turning it in, even for  the point of giving rewards for persons in possession to give them up, that would be typical of a progressive state that is concerned …”

On May 10, a Facebook post on Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s Facebook page states, “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.” On May 11, I sent the following question to Mike Ricci, Governor Hogan’s director of communications, “It’s not illegal in Maryland to be in possession of carbofuran. It’s illegal to use it, but the possession part, I believe, is a loophole that is preventing law enforcement from having a break in this case. So, question is and I would love an answer from the Governor’s office – Is the Governor considering an executive order that would make the possession of carbofuran illegal (a crime) or would that be an option?”

Because a month lapsed since that question was asked with no reply, I reached out again to the Governor’s office this past week and I got an email from Jason Schellhardt, director of communications for Maryland Department of Agriculture, which stated, “The State of Maryland treats the illegal use of carbofuran as what it is, a crime. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been actively involved in these investigations, and continues to work with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to encourage anyone in possession of this banned pesticide to safely dispose of it immediately. Our departments are absolutely committed to preventing any more poisonings of these magnificent birds.” I called Jason after receiving the email and asked specifically about the loophole with the possession law and if an executive order was something that could be done or was being considered. The reply to that was, “We are looking into it, but it is our understanding that a ban on possession would require legislation from the General Assembly.”

It should be noted the bald eagle is a federally protected bird and as such, the USFWS has been and still is the lead agency in investigating these cases.

Update – I received an email from Frank Kuncir that because of our interviews and his continued interest in these cases, he writes, “It’s also renewed my initiative to stimulate certain counties in Africa to ban sale of Furadan where it is sold in small quantities over the counter in Apothecary shops being used to poison Lions, & vultures in large numbers because the lions preying on cattle .Where it has been banned, herdsman just travel to adjacent countries where it is legal to distribute & sell it.”

Update – the ban on carbofuran was done in 2009, but the phase-out started in 1991. This article has been changed to reflect that.

Previous articles about this topic –

New Information in Bald Eagle Poisoning Cases

35 Dead Bald Eagles On and Near the Eastern Shore

Confirmed Link in Some of the Eastern Shore Bald Eagle Poisonings

One Reply to “Though Bald Eagle Poisoning Cases Have Been Happening for Years, a Law that Could Help Was Never Enacted in Maryland”

  1. Who better the WNAV to start a campaign to get legislation to save our Eagles? Certainly you are in the best position to get other media inolved. There should be assistance in safe disposal as well. MNRP should be able to engorce all federal fish and wildlife laws anyway.

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