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Salmon Pesticide Protections Under Attack by Politicians

by Josh Vincent — last modified Jan 28, 2011 04:00 PM
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House Natural Resources Chair Rep. Doc Hastings and 17 other House members take action to bolster the pesticide industry

Seattle, WA—Conservation and fishing groups say a letter to the White House from 18 House members complaining about pesticide restrictions aimed at protecting endangered West Coast salmon and steelhead is misguided and inaccurate.

In the letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality chief Nancy Sutley, the lawmakers—led by new House Natural Resources Chairman  Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.)—took issue with ongoing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) consultations over the effects of more than three-dozen chemicals on endangered fish species.

Hastings and the other lawmakers inaccurately claim the first three biological opinions, issued as a result of that consultation process and mandated by a federal judge, are “flawed.”  The misguided lawmakers also falsely claim the process of producing these biological opinions did not allow for enough public comment time from interested parties.

“These complaints aren’t really about process – they’re about the fact that NMFS followed the best science and that the industry didn’t get its way,” said Steve Mashuda, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the groups.  “There has been public notice and comment on drafts of each of these biological opinions.  Not only did the pesticide industry take full advantage of that opportunity to present its views, there were extensive meetings between NOAA, EPA, and the pesticide industry during the consultations.”   

“Salmon are too important to fishing families to play politics with their future,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA).  “We owe it to everyone to get the facts straight, stop pandering to the pesticide industry and start protecting our endangered salmon.”

"We have had to turn to the courts four different times because EPA has failed to protect endangered salmon from pesticides,” said Aimee Code, with the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP).   “It's been eight years since the courts have ordered EPA to comply with the law – and we  still don’t have a single safeguard in place to protect salmon from these chemicals.  It’s time to stop tactics designed to delay and distract, and get to the real work of protecting our salmon.”

“These biological opinions are based on sound science, it just doesn’t happen to agree with the pesticide industry’s position,” said Jason Rylander, attorney for Defenders of Wildlife. “This is a sign of bad things to come if Representative Hastings and the House Natural Resource Committee is going to put aside science whenever it’s inconvenient. We don’t need sign-off from major agribusiness companies to protect America’s endangered wildlife.”

At issue is a consultation process called for under the Endangered Species Act for certain chemicals applied to crops within the habitat of at-risk wildlife. When EPA proposed to rein in three widely used pesticides to protect endangered salmon and steelhead, the agency said it was the first completed consultation in more than two decades

The pesticides subject to the first round of EPA limits after consultation with salmon scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service are diazinon, malathion and chlorpyrifos, all deadly members of the organophosphate family of neurotoxins.

Pesticides can harm salmon in a number of ways, including killing them directly, affecting their food supply and habitat, impairing their ability to swim, and interfering with their ability to navigate back to their home streams to spawn. 

Two and a half years ago, NMFS issued the first of several biological opinions requiring EPA to implement no-spray buffer zones and other pesticide restrictions to keep these deadly chemicals out of salmon streams.  The EPA has failed to put any of these restrictions in place and is allowing toxic pesticides to continue to contaminate the waters of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California.

The groups represented by Earthjustice, which include the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Institute for Fisheries Resources, and Defenders of Wildlife, have asked that a federal court order EPA to put protective measures in place for salmon and steelhead.


Link to  letter from House members: