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USDA Program Helps Manage Cattails, Blackbirds

Monday, January 1, 2001
filed under: Birds

Free USDA Program Helps Manage Cattail, Blackbirds

Treatments by helicopter offer better control

Dense stands of cattails provide ideal roost and nest habitat for blackbirds. During late summer and early fall, large flocks of blackbirds gather in cattails, which can result in severe damage to nearby sunflower, corn, and small grain crops.

Since 1991, the Wildlife Services division of the USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has administered a cattail management program in North Dakota and South Dakota. Through this program, Wildlife Services makes aerial applications of an EPA-approved aquatic herbicide to reduce cattail density. Approximately 70% of the cattails are sprayed, and the removal of cattails disperses the birds. In addition to helping disperse blackbirds, removal of the cattails provides environmental benefits to other animals using the wetland. The herbicide also helps eliminate noxious weeds that grow on wetland edges, such as Canadian thistle and purple loosestrife.

In 2000, Wildlife Services used a helicopter to apply the herbicide. In prior years, aerial applications were made with fixed-winged aircraft. There are several advantages to aerial applications by helicopter, including less drift of the herbicide and the ability to safely spray smaller cattail acreage.

The minimum size treatment with fixed-winged aircraft was 15 acres. With a helicopter, that size is now reduced to 10 acres. Reducing the minimum size treatment allows more cattail sites to be eligible for the management program.

Frequently asked questions about the cattail management program:

Q. How can landowners participate in this program?

A. Interested landowners must contact the Wildlife Services offices in Bismarck (701-250-4405) or Pierre (605-224-8692) and request an enrollment application. Though this program is only offered in the Dakotas, blackbird control information may also be available at Wildlife Services offices in Lakewood, CO (303-969-5775) Lincoln, NE (402-434-2340) and Manhattan, KS (785-532-1549)

Q. How much do landowners pay to participate in this program?

A. There is no charge to landowners. Wildlife Services administers this program with federal funds appropriated by Congress.

Q. Because of my crop rotation, it will be a few years before I plant sunflower near a cattail marsh. Do I have to wait to participate in this program?

A. No. Wildlife Services encourages landowners to participate in this program regardless of the timing of their crop rotation. The effects of the herbicide treatments can last four years or longer, depending on the water levels within the treated sites. Therefore, the benefits of the spraying can last through more than one crop rotation.

Q. What if the cattail wetland is located on federal or state property?

A. Contact the agency and ask for permission to have Wildlife Services spray the cattails. Many times these agencies are happy to cooperate.

Q. When will the cattails be sprayed?

A. Spraying will begin in late June or early July and conclude in August.

Q. Will the herbicide kill crops and hay if an over-spray occurs?

A. This herbicide is similar to Roundup and thus, will kill crops and hay if contacted by the spray. However, the helicopter is able to control spray drift better than a fixed-wing aircraft.

Q. The last time I called Wildlife Services, they said wetlands smaller than 15 acres could not be sprayed. Has this been changed?

A. Yes, almost any wetland with sufficient room for the helicopter to operate safely can now be sprayed. However, large wetlands will be given a higher priority than small wetlands. – Phil Mastrangelo, USDA/APHIS Wildlife Services

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