In an event that ran from the alarming to the charming, the Knesset yesterday marked 30 years of organized bird watching in Israel with emphasis on the Public Initiative to Minimalize Pesticide Damage. The event was arranged together by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and Tel Aviv University, which runs the country's main ornithological project under Dr. Yossi Leshem as well as the public initiative, chaired by retired justice Ya'acov Terkel.The day started with the opening of the new visitors center at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, on the Knesset grounds, but soon took a serious turn. At a special session of the Knesset Interior and Environmental Protection Committee, chaired by MK David Azoulay, disturbing data was presented that showed that not only is the country's wildlife, and particularly birds of prey, badly affected by the use of agricultural pesticides but also human residents.Prof. Yoram Finkelstein, of the Unit of Toxicology and Neurology at Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Dr. Elihu Richter of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, noted among other deleterious results of improper use of pesticides: cognitive brain damage, reduced fertility and cancers. "The harm is caused first to wildlife but it is a sign of the inevitable harm to humans," Finkelstein said.Leshem and Prof. Yoram Yom-Tov noted data recently compiled by the Israel Parks and Nature Protection Authority, which shows that there are 120 reported cases of wildlife poisoning a year - one every three to four days - 95 percent of which are cases of deliberate poisoning. In one incident, 30 rare birds of prey died as the result of eating a deliberately poisoned cow carcasse set out as a trap for wolves. 60% of the poisonings are carried out by farmers in attempts to tackle the problem of wild animals but 35% of the poisonings are deliberate attacks by rival farmers, usually arguing over grazing areas.Leshem noted that due mainly to secondary poisoning, the population of griffon vultures in the country has dropped from thousands to just 60 pairs, 50 bird species are on the endangered list and other birds, such as the bearded vulture, have died out altogether.Much of the harm is caused by the improper use of pesticides and almost all the speakers referred to the need for increased enforcement of existing laws, updated legislation, education and public awareness as well as the need for further research into the extent of the problems and risks, and better monitoring and supervision of pesticide use.Tzipi Iser Itzik, director of the Israel Union of Environmental Defense, (IUED/Adam, Teva V'din) called for "a revolution" in the field, saying that Israel uses toxic materials that have been banned in other developed countries. The residue of the pesticides not only makes its way along the food chain of wildlife but also reaches the ground water and even the country's drinking water, she said.On a lighter note, at a festive event in the Knesset auditorium, filmswere screened on the country's successful use of barn owls and lesserkestrels for biological pest control against rodents, the PostalAuthority issued stamps marking the choice of the hoopoe as thenational bird, and the Knesset hosted a photo exhibition on the themeof "Agriculture and Birds - coexistence or conflict?"MKs of various political colors flocked to the event which wasaddressed by, among others, the Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin andEnvironmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, and emceed by MK NitzanHorowitz.