What yew don’t know could be deadly…

This is a troubling excerpt from a Daily Astorian article that was posted in the Oregon section on Google news…

The Daily Astorian  Thursday, December 19, 2013 9:19 am

WARRENTON — Phil Elkins of the Astoria Parks and Recreation Department wondered what happened after he came across six dead elk scattered throughout the Ocean View Cemetery Friday morning.

“There were no visible bullet holes, arrow holes,” he said, adding that there was foam around one’s mouth. “They just died. Fish and Game said they’ve never seen anything like it.”

Elkins said the elk were part of a larger herd of 40 to 50 that passes through the cemetery.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff took the animals to their veterinarian and Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Lab near Corvallis for a necropsy.

“They died of poisoning by English yew, said Michelle Dennehy, a spokeswoman for ODFW. 

English Yew, a popular ornamental landscaping conifer imported from Europe, is HIGHLY toxic…  The entire plant should be considered as poisonous, according to Rich Halse, a senior instructor of botany at Oregon State University.

Two questions came to mind after reading this article.

  1. What will be done to prevent other elk in the herd from grazing on this deadly plant and being poisoned?
  2. How can the public be better informed about toxins in landscape-related choices?

The first question  is important because it seems logical to believe that the surviving elk in the herd may feed on the deadly plant as well. Finding and implementing a method to protect those elk is a priority. An article on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website gives suggestions for How to Live with Deer and Elk.” Several methods for fencing property are described. Another approach, which I advocate,  is to remove the poisonous, non-native plants and replace them with a native, non-lethal variety of conifer.

The second question addresses a bigger issue that deals with humans coexisting with wildlife. Many animal deaths could be prevented if people were better educated to make informed decisions when landscaping. For example, last summer thousands of bumble bees were killed in several Oregon towns when pesticides were incorrectly applied to Linden trees. An NPR article published on December 20, 2013 has encouraging news, “To prevent future bee kills, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has prohibited the use of pesticides containing the ingredients dinotefuran and imidicloprid on Tilia tree species, like linden trees. Officials believe when these two ingredients can be fatal to bees, when they are applied on trees that have their own natural toxicity. “

When human error is to blame for animal deaths, as in the cases of the elk and bee deaths,  the cause of the deaths must be investigated. Then the responsible parties should be identified and held accountable. The  Oregon Department of Agriculture has fined pesticide company Collier Arbor Care and four of its employees for the deaths of the bumblebees. The penalties, in my opinion, were not harsh enough… only $2,800. A very small pittance for the demise of thousands of pollinators. More importantly, ODA’s quick steps to obtain a ban on the use of pesticides known to kill bees is commendable. I’m not suggesting that fines and punishments always be a part of remediating species-kills. That should be done on a case-by-case basis. What I am advocating is that when wildlife is jeopardized due to human error, steps be taken to remedy the identified problem with responsible solutions. I haven’t seen any follow-up media reports about next-steps planned to prevent further elk deaths at the Ocean View Cemetery. However, I believe Astoria Parks and Recreation Department took the responsible first step when it pursued identifying the cause of the elks’ deaths…

What will be the fate of the remaining elk at Ocean View cemetery? Let’s hope YEW will not decide…

Photo Credit: Joe Nelson, Ocean View Cemetery

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