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Order bans pesticides near salmon
The federal ruling restricts spraying near endangered fish runs in the Northwest
A federal judge Thursday banned the use of dozens of commonly used pesticides along thousands of miles of rivers and streams where endangered salmon run in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.
The sweeping prohibition, which takes place in two weeks, is expected to have deep impact in the Northwest, particularly on farms that manage pests by spraying.
In addition, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour in Seattle ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop point-of-sale warnings to retail consumers that specific bug killers and lawn chemicals "may harm salmon or steelhead," and that use in urban areas can pollute salmon streams.
Coughenour's ruling grants nearly all of the immediate protections for fish sought by conservation and fishing groups that sued the EPA, and it sets a precedent for several related lawsuits nationwide seeking to impose strict limits on pesticides under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The order prohibits aerial spraying within 100 yards, and ground spraying within 20 yards, of any stream designated as important to salmon or steelhead stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act. In Oregon alone, that accounts for dozens of extensive drainages with main-stem rivers and tributaries.
Farmers and pesticide manufacturers Thursday decried the ruling, saying it exaggerates the risks to salmon while causing significant losses of crops to insects and disease.
"It will have a very devastating impact on many farmers in Washington, Oregon and California," said Dean Boyer, a spokesman for the Washington Farm Bureau. Boyer said the burden might be highest on fruit growers in the Columbia River Basin, because many orchards are small and located along waterways with a dozen threatened or endangered salmon stocks.
CropLife America, an industry group representing pesticide-makers, said in a prepared statement that the threat to salmon from pesticides is "non-existent," and that all the products named in the court order have undergone scientific scrutiny and approval by the EPA to protect people and wildlife.
Coughenour ruled in 2002 that the EPA had failed to consult with federal fish and wildlife services, as required by the Endangered Species Act, when writing rules for pesticide use near rivers and streams. Similar cases are proceeding in Oregon, Alaska, California and the District of Columbia. Coughenour indicated in July that he would restrict the use of 38 of the 54 pesticides named by the advocacy groups.
At that time, Coughenour indicated he would impose the restrictions, but he accepted arguments for revisions from the industry.
EPA officials did not immediately return calls Thursday.
The agency has estimated the cost of no-spray buffers. A study in December 2002 found such restrictions would lead to crop losses totaling about $4.8 million in Oregon, Washington and California. California rice growers are likely to lose the most, about $3.5 million, according to the study, because they typically use more aerial spraying.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, has estimated that costs could approach $100 million annually in Oregon and Washington.
Until now, pesticide-makers have managed to avoid court-ordered restrictions while the EPA completes consultations with fish and wildlife agencies as mandated in a number of lawsuits.
"EPA is vulnerable," said Earthjustice attorney Patti Goldman, who won the lawsuit in Seattle. Goldman said the agency has "routinely" made rulings of no harm on pesticides that affect endangered species.
"I would imagine other cases would cite this precedent, and other judges would follow suit," Goldman said.
Spraying to control mosquitoes and noxious weeds is exempted from the court order restrictions. The ruling will cease to apply to uses of pesticides that are deemed safe by fish and wildlife services.
The Washington Toxics Coalition and other groups behind the lawsuit said the restricted pesticides have been documented at harmful levels in Northwest streams in studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, or judged likely to harm salmon by the EPA.
"This ruling gives salmon a much-needed break from the toxic soup of pesticides they've been facing," said Erika Schreder, staff scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition.
Aimee Code with the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides said point-of-sale labeling of bug spray and weedkillers will allow consumers to make informed decisions about which products to buy.
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