Another in an occasional series that analyzes “100 Things You Need to Know About DDT,” a junk science publication by former tobacco lobbyist Steven Milloy.
Here’s a note from Audubon a while ago (August 2004) (emphasis added):
For those dispirited by the notion that humanity has doomed itself to a lonely, sterile future in a world increasingly bereft of wild creatures, there is no tonic more curative than the peregrine falcon. Today, on cliffs, bridges, and city buildings nationwide, young peregrines are strengthening their wings. Within a few weeks, those wings will propel them at speeds near 250 mph, enabling them to kill birds as large as great blue herons, mostly by impact. City aeries are frequently monitored by TV cameras, and you can watch the progress of the hatchlings on your computer or television. (Do an Internet search to find the monitored aerie nearest you.) Before World War II the peregrine was among the planet’s most successful species, breeding on every continent and many mid-ocean islands, from the Arctic to as far south as Cape Horn. When University of Wisconsin biologist Joseph Hickey surveyed eastern peregrines in 1942, he found 350 breeding pairs. In 1963, after two decades of DDT use, he found none. But in 1972 the Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT, and soon an alliance of federal agencies, conservationists, and private groups was sponsoring captive breeding and the “hacking” of young peregrines into the wild. The recovery goal had been 631 breeding pairs in the United States and Canada. By 1999, when the peregrine was taken off the Endangered Species List, there were at least 1,650.
Compare this with Milloy’s claim #77:
The decline in the U.S. peregrine falcon population occurred long before the DDT years.
[Hickey JJ. 1942. (Only 170 pairs of peregrines in eastern U.S. in 1940) Auk 59:176; Hickey JJ. 1971 Testimony at DDT hearings before EPA hearing examiner. (350 pre- DDT peregrines claimed in eastern U.S., with 28 of the females sterile); and Beebe FL. 1971. The Myth of the Vanishing Peregrine Falcon: A study in manipulation of public and official attitudes. Canadian Raptor Society Publication, 31 pages]
Here are some potential problems:
1. Milloy offers no real citation to Hickey in 1942. The quote would be impossible to track down. Why is Milloy hiding sources, being so coy?
2. While Milloy doesn’t quote Hickey directly, Milloy’s citation of Hickey implies that Hickey’s work supports Milloy’s point. But when we read what Hickey found, according to Audubon, it contradicts Milloy’s point. If Hickey found only 170 nesting peregrines in 1940, and 350 in 1942, clearly that suggests the peregrines were doing very well, more than doubling their nests in two years. Milloy claims peregrines were on the decline, but from what little we have, it looks like their populations were rocketing up prior to DDT. Hickey developed a great reputation for his work revealing the bad effects of DDT; how is it that Milloy has found the only instant ever recorded where Hickey discovers no harm? I suspect Milloy has doctored the data, and not that he’s made a grand discovery of a missing Hickey manuscript.
3. A general decline of raptors prior to DDT does not refute the evidence that DDT killed embryoes, killed hatchlings before they could fledge, and killed fledglings before they could mature. DDT wasn’t the sole cause of the decline of peregrines, nor eagles, nor brown pelicans, but DDT was the major barrier to their recovery. The history of the war against eagles, for example, is rather well documented, as is the development of the wild lands eagles use as habitat. Eagle populations started to decline at the latest when Europeans started to settle North America. Those pressures have never gone away. But after the eagle was protected from hunting in 1918, and then with a tougher law in 1940, the decline was not ended. After 1950, eagles essentially stopped reproducing. This made recovery impossible, and this was the problem DDT caused. When DDT spraying stopped, peregrine falcon populations started to rise, and so did eagle and brown pelican populations, among others.
I have been unable to find a single study that does not corroborate the claim that DDT and its daughter products were hammering the reproduction of predator birds in North America — nor have I found a single study that says the damage has ended. Where does Milloy find any evidence to support his implied claim that DDT was not responsible? It’s not in the citations he offers.
There may be more on this issue coming. So far, nothing Milloy has said against a DDT ban, or in favor of DDT, has checked out to be truthful from the citations he gives, nor from any other source. There are 109 points in his diatribe; I’ve only researched fewer than 20 in any depth.
Other posts pointing out Milloy’s errors: