The Portland City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to ban the use of the toxic bird poisons known as avicides on city property.
The city already avoids using avicides, including the commercially available and lethal neurotoxin called Avitrol that was tied to two large-scale crow poisonings in downtown and northeast Portland in 2014 and 2018.
The use of Avitrol led dozens of crows to fall from the sky, have seizures on the ground and die along city streets and sidewalks.
Now, city leaders want to send a message to federal regulators that license that chemical and others like it.
“This is unacceptable,” said Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish. “These poisonings are inhumane, and these types of actions risk exposing the general public, local wildlife and the entire food chain to a dangerous neurotoxin.”
The commission voted for a resolution that adopts an integrated pest management policy for the city that prohibits the use avicides, which are toxic to a lot of species — not just birds. The new policy supports non-lethal methods of managing bird-related problems such as hazing, exclusion and sidewalk cleaning.
Portland is joining New York City, San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado, on a growing list of cities that have banned avicides in the hopes of pressuring federal regulators to further restrict them.
“At the end of the day we have a very limited regulatory function as far as private actors,” Fish said. “So we’re hoping to set an example in how we use this in the public sphere and then use the bully pulpit to get others to follow us.”
City leaders also discussed sanitation issues surrounding the poop from thousands of crows that roost downtown in the winter, which they suspect is the reason someone used Avitrol to poison the birds.
The Downtown Clean and Safe janitorial program has employed various strategies to manage the problem, including a Zamboni-like machine they called the Poopmaster 6000 to wash away bird poop, and now falconers use hawks to scare the crows away from certain areas.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said there’s no reason to use toxic chemicals to kill the birds when there are other, non-toxic options to deal with their poop.
“We have employed humane approaches to addressing this problem,” he said. “I think we are being very naive — foolish even — if we think using neurotoxins on wildlife won’t eventually impact us as humans.”
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said the city should consider similar action on other pesticides and herbicides such as Roundup and glyphosate.
Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Portland Audubon Society, said he hopes the city’s resolution will pressure the Environmental Protection Agency to take Avitrol off the market by denying the next application for re-registration of the chemical.
“The problem is most of the regulatory authority is vested in the state and the feds, so in this case Portland is doing everything it can do and then sending a message as well,” he said.
His group collected a lot of the dead crows after the poisoning events in Portland to prevent the toxin from spreading to other wildlife, pets and people.
“These kinds of poisons are completely inappropriate for use in the city,” he said. “They’re indiscriminate, they are cruel and inhumane, they are dangerous and they don’t belong in our environment.”