Dead crows and dying trees

Posted 2/26/20

Dozens of dead crows have been found recently near a shopping mall in the Town of Wallkill. The first notification about the crows to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation …

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Dead crows and dying trees


Dozens of dead crows have been found recently near a shopping mall in the Town of Wallkill. The first notification about the crows to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation occurred on January 7. More dead crows were found later. On four different occasions, the DEC collected some of the dead birds and tested them.

Last week, the DEC said it was stumped as to the cause of the crows’ demise. The DEC tested for poison, West Nile Virus, Avian Influenza and various other diseases, and all of the tests were negative.

The DEC said the agency might never determine what killed the birds, but there’s a good possibility that the cause is linked to human activity, like so many plant and animal die-offs in the past.

Right now, in our region and across much of the United States, ash trees are being wiped out at a rapid pace because of the infestation of the invasive insect the emerald ash borer (EAB). The spread of the non-native green bug is mostly due to human activity. Adult beetles typically fly less than half a mile from the tree they emerge from, and according to the DEC, “Most long-distance movement of EAB has been directly traced to ash firewood or ash nursery stock… New York State currently has a regulation restricting the movement of firewood to protect our forests from invasive pests.”

This sort of die-off is not new to the human experience. At one time, the forests of the eastern U.S. were populated with American chestnut trees. According to an article in Mitchell News (www.bit.ly/TRRchestnut) by Felix Stith, “The American chestnut was once one of the more common trees in the forests of the eastern United States until chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, an invasive non-native fungal disease native to East Asia, killed three-to-four billion trees and destroyed the population. Chestnut blight was accidentally brought to North America in the early part of the 20th century in a nursery shipment from Japan.”

Die offs of animals and plants occur all over the planet. On February 19, China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua reported that more than 100 wild animals were found dead in the city of Chongqing, which borders Hubei Province where the outbreak of novel coronavirus or COVID-19 originated.

The animals were tested for disease and included boars, weasels and birds. Authorities said no diseases were found and that the animals may have been killed by disinfectants.

Meanwhile, more than 3,000 animals are considered endangered; plants and animals continue to go extinct at an unprecedented rate in what is being called the sixth extinction.

This extinction, described in a 2014 book by journalist Elisabeth Kolbert, comes along as many scientists believe we have entered a new epoch called the Anthropocene or human-dominated epoch. 

There have been five previous large-scale plant and animal extinction events in the history of planet earth, such as the one that is believed to have killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago when a huge asteroid hit the planet. But this sixth extinction is entirely due to human activity.

One of the first signs that plant and animal life on the planet was in peril came in the 1980s when researchers in Panama noticed that the golden frog, which had once been abundant in that Central American country, was dying out. Looking deeper into the issue, researchers found this was happening with frogs and amphibians all over the planet. Frogs are regarded as an indicator species, indicating the health of an ecosystem, because of their sensitivity to pollutants and the fact they live on land and in water.

The causes of the die-offs vary from loss of habitat to pollution, from deforestation to climate change, but the common factor is that they are all caused by activities that humans undertake consciously and intentionally, mostly in an attempt to earn a living. 

Perhaps most significantly in the last 200 years, humans have changed the make-up of the atmosphere itself, impacting not only the climate of the planet but also the temperature and acidity of the oceans. 

We have changed the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests, thereby adding some 455 billion metric tons of carbon into the relatively thin envelope of air that surrounds the planet.

A new study published on nature.com (www.bit.ly/TRRloss) estimates that more than 1,000 species of large mammals and birds will suffer extinction in the next 100 years and the loss may be significant enough to have a negative impact on the human food supply.

The study says that some extinctions could be avoided if humans take radical actions to protect wildlife and wild habitat, but so far humans have not been willing to take such steps.

There are examples where humans have taken action and ecological disasters have been reversed. In the 1960s, Rachel Carson wrote her famous book “Silent Spring,” and the U.S. soon banned the use of DDT. That, along with special protections, led to the resurgence of the bald eagle populations in the Upper Delaware Valley.

But the successes are limited. What the planet needs now is for its population to switch to renewable new forms of energy, sustainable methods of agriculture and fishing, and protections for large swaths of the natural world. Some scientists think this can be achieved, but they all agree we’ve got to start moving much more quickly.


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