Washington State University veterinarian Marcie Logsdon is part of an Environmental Protection Agency-led research team collecting tundra swan feces and sediment from the lower basin of the Coeur d’Alene River to monitor lethal lead exposure levels in the natural environment of birds. .
According to Idaho Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an average of 50 to 60 swans die each year from lead exposure in the basin, but this year was particularly difficult for the species, as more than 300 died. from suspected lead exposure. poisoning.
“Lead contamination in and around Lake Coeur d’Alene has been a problem for some time, primarily due to some older mining practices,” Logsdon said. “A lot of that lead ends up in silt and mud where it can be very easy to want to forget about it, but there are a lot of animals that hang out there.”
Logsdon gains unique first-hand experience through the project.
On a freezing March night, she could hear the faint sound of an airboat engine as she waited in the dark along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
She and her EPA aides braced themselves as the sound of the engine neared and the boat slid ashore. On board were a handful of tundra swans who they hope will contribute to the development of new and simpler methods to track long-term trends in waterfowl health and exposure to lead-contaminated sediments.
The team quickly got to work, collecting blood, faeces and swab samples, in addition to placing neck collars and leg bands on all the animals and fitting some with GPS collars to track migrations and movements, before the birds are released.
It was a rare chance for Logsdon, an exotics and wildlife vet at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, to be in the field. While the project has been ongoing for several years, Logsdon only recently became involved after being approached to help develop a research protocol and for veterinary advice. She was then invited to participate in the field work.
“Opportunities like this, I really cherish. It’s great to get out and interact with animals at the population level and to be able to hang out with people who are doing active and important science,” Logsdon said. “One of my teachers would call them million dollar days – I think that pretty much sums it up.”
The study, led by EPA toxicologist Dr. Mark Jankowski, took place over four nights in early March and was part of a project in which the EPA is collaborating with Idaho Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. . Researchers are investigating ways to measure lead exposure by collecting sediment and swan droppings from where swans are observed feeding in wetlands and then comparing it to swan blood lead levels. at uncontaminated and contaminated places. Future monitoring of sediment and swan droppings in wetlands, which is much easier to collect, would then be used to determine waterfowl health related to exposures in specific wetlands and across the basin.
All waterfowl are affected by contaminated sediment, but swans are particularly at risk due to their feeding habits in which they forage the marsh bottoms primarily in search of rooted vegetation.
“These tundra swans cross their annual migration route between California and Alaska and they feed a lot in these contaminated areas, and every year a large number of swans die from lead toxicity in this area,” Logsdon said. . . “As they feed, they will absorb a small amount of soil, and that’s usually no problem – it just passes through. This causes a problem when it contains lead.
Logsdon said the research will hopefully benefit both wildlife and humans.
“Monitoring studies of indicator species such as Tundra Swans are important because they reflect the health of our shared environment,” she said. “Lead exposure is not good for any species, including humans.”