Al Jazeera America tackles botulism in Central Valley

Photo courtesy Al Jazeera America

Al Jazeera America continued to bring attention to the  current drought conditions in California and the effects on the Pacific Flyway, specifically in regards to waterfowl and disease. The piece, by author Nate Schweber, provides an interesting insight into the methods biologists use to keep the duck population free of avian botulism in refuges and other wildlife areas.

“All the birds are focused on this one refuge, and by concentrating them in a smaller area, that increases the likelihood that they will get botulism,” says Greg Austin a deputy refuge manager at Tule Lake. “If we were able to spread the birds out, we’d be better able to manage it, and lessen the impacts.”

To fight botulism, biologists take boats out onto Tule Lake to remove the dead birds, because they are incubators for disease. As maggots eat at the corpses, the bacterium concentrates inside their bodies. When other ducks eat those maggots, they too get infected, thus exacerbating the cycle.

The story also features a quote from both Ducks Unlimited’s Western Region Director Mark Biddlecomb and Fritz Reid, DU’s director of conservation programs.

Such waterfowl die-offs directly affect an estimated 80,000 waterfowl hunters, who spend millions annually, in the state of California. Around 65 percent of seasonal wetlands in central California, supporting more than 200 species of birds, are owned by and managed with funds from private duck hunting clubs, says Fritz Reid, a director of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited.

“The drought will make many of these private wetlands remain dry until winter rains occur. Less monies will be spent in local communities for gas, food, et cetera,” Reid says. “A continued drought this winter would be catastrophic.”

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