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Commentaries and editorials

Don't Ask a Fish Biologist
If Fish Like Pesticides

by Patrick McGann
Lewiston Tribune, August 1, 2004

It wasn't all that long ago that many of the pickup trucks parked ahead of empty trailers at the Blue Creek boat ramp on the Cowlitz River in southwest Washington sported bumper stickers that said, "Weyerhauser: The Fish Killing Company."

These weren't what you'd call flaming greenies. Far from it. A lot of these guys were loggers themselves (though maybe not for "The Tree Growing Company.") They just saw the spray coming down and the fish kills and the missing mountain quail enough times to put 2 and 2 together.

They weren't scientists. Or politicos. Or organic anything. They were outdoors people who liked to catch salmon and steelhead. They were normal people who didn't like to be peed on and told it was raining.

They would readily acknowledge that everybody needs to make a buck, including people who make 2-by-4s, grow apples and cherries right up to the edge of the Columbia and squeeze blood out of the Palouse wheat turnip.

But pesticides and herbicides can kill salmon and steelhead smolts even in very small amounts. Yes, a lot of other things do too, but chemicals designed to kill bugs, rodents and weeds are particularly effective at it if applied at the wrong time, in the wrong amounts and in the wrong places.

The people who know this best are the biologists in the state game departments and in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries division.

Depending on who is in the White House, sometimes the fish biologists can speak up and sometimes they have to zip it.

Now they have to zip it. In April, NOAA Fisheries biologists drafted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency objecting to the EPA's findings that more than three-dozen pesticides either would not harm or would not likely harm threatened and endangered salmon.

The letter was never sent. And now we can stop wondering why.

The Bush administration, in its relentless pursuit of filling the henhouse with foxes, on Friday changed a requirement for the Environmental Protection Agency to consult with federal fishery biologists before approving pesticides and herbicides for use near salmon- and steelhead-bearing streams.

The administration calls it "steamlining." It says it will be better for fish this way. It says the EPA, not the fishery biologists, has the best science on fish biology. It says those aren't pesticides and herbicides falling out of the sky. It's just raining.

Patrick McGann
Don't Ask a Fish Biologist If Fish Like Pesticides
Lewiston Tribune, August 1, 2004

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