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Government Says Pesticides Killed More than 15,000 Birds

December 9, 1986

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ The government maintained on Tuesday that organo-phosphate pesticides, not poor wildlife management, killed 15,000 to 20,000 birds last September in southwestern Spain near Europe’s largest migratory bird sanctuary.

Critics described the deaths as an ecological disaster.

Deputy Prime Minister Alfonso Guerra, head of the board that oversees the Coto Donana National Park, said the use of legal and banned organo-phosphate pesticides had caused the massive bird deaths in irrigated, rice-growing areas outside the 190-square-mile park on Spain’s southern Atlantic coast.

Appearing before the Parliament Agriculture Committee, Guerra denied that poor wildlife management measures and lack of coordination among regional and national wildlife preservation agencies caused any deaths within the park.

He insisted the birds, which included many ducks, died outside the park in the irrigated rice-growing regions of what is known as ″Las Marismas″ or the marshes, a vast tract of delta land between Seville and the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda on the Atlantic Ocean.

Guerra’s statements Tuesday contradicted initial statements by toxicology experts and wildlife preservation agencies that pesticides did not cause the deaths.

Centrist member of Parliament Agustin Rodriguez Sahagun accused Guerra, the other 12 members on the park board and regional and national wildlife preservation agencies of negligence and responsibility for the ″ecological disaster.″

Rice farmers use pesticides to control rice pests and a hardy strain of U.S. crayfish introduced when the Spanish species began dying out.

Crayfisherman also use pesticides to limit the numbers and thus keep prices high.

An association of rice farmers in the Guadalquivir area has denied farmers have used banned pesticides or had any responsibility in the bird deaths.

As of Tuesday, no one had been arrested or accused of illegal use of pesticides in connection with the deaths.

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