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Pesticides Restricted to Protect Salmon

by Craig Welch
Seattle Times - January 23, 2004

West Coast ruling is sweeping

A federal judge yesterday banned application of 38 pesticides along Northwest salmon streams, and required retailers in major West Coast cities to post warnings that read "Salmon Hazard" where seven of the most harmful chemicals are sold.

The sweeping order by U.S. District Judge John Coughenour affects everything from sprays used in orchards, dandelion-killers used on farms and yards, and industrial herbicides applied on forests, golf courses and roadsides.

The ruling, while not unexpected, rattled Northwest farming representatives, who said it raised many questions and punished growers for the failures of federal regulators though they acknowledge it's too soon to know how drastically they may need to change their practices.

And the case could have implications beyond the region, as similar lawsuits over pesticides' impact on sea turtles in the Chesapeake Bay area and California red-legged frogs wind through the courts.

Yesterday's order comes after a two-year court battle over the Environmental Protection Agency's failure to adequately assess the impact pesticides may be having on threatened fish runs.

Federal scientists knew through studies that the pesticides could affect the ability of salmon to smell, reproduce, avoid predators, swim or detect prey.

"Delay has harmed salmon for a long time," said Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice, which fights court cases for environmental groups. "It's about time we had some protections."

The new restrictions apply to lands adjacent to any waterway home to threatened salmon or steelhead in California, Oregon or Washington.

Aerial spraying is restricted to 100 yards from salmon streams, except for mosquito prevention and other human-health applications.

"Pesticide-application buffer zones are a common, simple and effective strategy" to avoid harm to listed fish species, Coughenour said in his ruling. Last year, he found the EPA had violated the Endangered Species Act.

Environmentalists said pesticide users in most cases had alternative means or chemicals to protect their crops or plants, and that it's good management not to apply pesticides close to waterways anyway.

"EPA has to make sure the growers know and comply with it, and we'll need to see that they develop some sort of enforcement mechanism," said Erika Schreder, with the Washington Toxics Coalition.

Wary farm advocates, especially those representing vegetable and fruit growers, said it could be devastating to small operators.

"In the Skagit Valley, for example, you've got a lot of small farms with water bodies going around or through or near them, and for some it will be tough to treat their crops effectively," said Pat Boss, with the Washington State Potato Commission.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture study submitted to the court suggested, in the worst-case scenario, stream-side pesticide buffers could result in farmers ripping out fruit crops near streams, causing losses of $100 million a year in Washington and Oregon alone.

An Environmental Protection Agency study found the financial impact would more likely be less than $5 million in all three states with most of that coming from rice farms in California.

Both conclusions were reached when it was expected that the judge's order would apply to 54 pesticides; 16 since have been determined by EPA to be unlikely to harm listed fish.

Mike Willett, with the Northwest Horticulture Council, said it's impossible to predict how growers will respond. It's a "one-size-fits-all ruling that doesn't make any sense," he said, but Washington agriculture is a "pretty resourceful group."

"Some of these pesticides are used on just one crop or on many crops, some are near water and some are not it's very site-specific," he said.

"There are new alternative products coming on the market, but in many cases, the industry knows very little about how they're going to work. They may turn out to be great fits."

Meanwhile, the pesticide industry group CropLife America, which intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the EPA, called the buffer zones unnecessary.

"The court's final order is devastating to agriculture and pest control in the Pacific Northwest," the group said in a written statement.

"These severe restrictions on agriculture, small-business and consumer use of pest control products hurt farmers, foresters, homeowners and retailers in Washington, Oregon and Northern California."

Most of the restrictions will be implemented in two weeks.

Pesticide warnings

A federal judge ordered that in West Coast cities of 50,000 or more, retailers who sell seven particular pesticides must post a sign "Salmon Hazard" in large letters along with a warning about hazards to salmon streams. The pesticides are:

Pesticides requiring protective buffers

Craig Welch
Pesticides Restricted to Protect Salmon
Seattle Times Company, January 23, 2004

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