To protect salmon, restrictions placed on three pesticides
Farmers along the entire West Coast and as far inland as Idaho face extensive new restrictions on three popular pesticides in the name of protecting salmon.
Seattle Times environment reporter
Farmers in Washington and along the entire West Coast face extensive new restrictions on three popular pesticides in the name of protecting salmon.
The pesticides are common in the state's apple and cherry orchards, potato fields and berry farms. Restrictions could cover big swaths of Washington farmland where streams carry a variety of federally protected salmon and steelhead, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
That includes orchards around Wenatchee and Yakima and Western Washington agricultural centers in Skagit and Whatcom counties. One of the pesticides, chlorpyrifos, also is used on golf courses. Another, malathion, is used by some public-health agencies to kill mosquitoes.
Under the rules, the pesticides couldn't be used within 500 feet of streams that carry salmon. Crop dusters would have to stay even farther away, and farmers using the pesticides would have to leave 20-foot strips of land uncultivated along drainage ditches and streams that are home to the fish.
The new restrictions, triggered by an environmental lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act, won't be implemented right away. And the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides and would put the restrictions on product labels, could try to devise a different approach.
But the ruling by the fisheries service, which is responsible for protecting endangered salmon, carries significant weight. If the EPA chose not to adopt the rules, it would have to convince the fisheries service an alternative was just as good, or be vulnerable to lawsuits.
Environmentalists, who set the rules in motion with a 2002 court victory in U.S. District Court in Seattle, said the proposal issued Tuesday represented significant new protections for fish, as well as benefits for people who might be affected by toxic pesticides.
Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice, said this could prompt farmers to consider different, less-hazardous alternatives to controlling pests.
"We think it's quite a positive step toward dealing with this issue," he said.
But a farming group warned that the restrictions would make it hard to use chemicals important for controlling serious pests, including codling moths and cherry fruit flies.
Farmers risk having their shipments blocked if those pests turn up, said Heather Hansen, of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, which represents the agriculture industry on pesticide issues.
She also questioned whether such broad buffers are needed, and said the fisheries service didn't give enough weight to studies showing lower amounts of the pesticides in rivers.
"It's sort of using a sledgehammer where a much more nuanced approach would be much more appropriate," she said.
The leading pesticide industry group, CropLife America, said in a statement that it was disappointed by what it described as a "flawed" report.
The fisheries service found the three pesticides, chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion, threatened salmon and steelhead by hurting reproduction, impairing fish development, damaging the ability to swim and avoid predators, and poisoning insects the fish feed on.
The EPA issued a statement saying it would review the fisheries service's findings, and was committed to protecting the fish.
More restrictions could be on the way. The fisheries service must still review 34 more pesticides under the court order that triggered Tuesday's decision.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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