Judge Might Require
by Anna King, Herald staff writer
The battle for survival that sometimes pits fish against farmers took on a sharper edge Thursday.
A U.S. District Court judge in Seattle indicated that in as little as six weeks, he might require temporary 300-foot aerial buffers and 60-foot ground buffers for pesticide use near waterways.
But Judge John Coughenour first asked for more information from both sides in an environmental group's suit over chemical applications.
As a result, farmers like Randy Mullen of Pasco might have to stop spraying chemicals to control pests and weeds on fields near the Columbia River or its tributaries.
In January 2001, the Washington Toxics Coalition filed the suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contending EPA had failed to follow its own rules.
Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA was supposed to consult with NOAA Fisheries on 54 chemicals that could harm salmon. The agency didn't.
Now, the Toxics Coalition and other fishery groups want the judge to impose the buffers on all land within 200 feet of waterways if the chemicals could harm salmon.
"It makes no sense to poison salmon when we are trying to save them," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
The pending decision could affect potato fields, vineyards, orchards and even lawns, said Heather Hansen, executive director of the Washington Friends of Farms and Forests.
"Best-case scenario, there will be a huge impact on agriculture," Hansen said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said one year of such regulation could cost Washington and Oregon agriculture more than $500 million.
The chemicals in question are like chocolate chips in the baking industry, Hansen said: They are common ingredients in many mixtures.
Of the 54 active ingredients called into question, 15 have been determined to have "no effect" on salmon and will not require buffers.
But to figure out what should happen with the rest could take a while, said Bob Arrington of the Washington state Department of Agriculture.
And that's bad for the farmer, said Alan Schreiber, executive director of the Washington Asparagus Commission.
"They are taking away his ability to farm," he said.
And when you don't apply pesticides to a certain portion of a field, it could mean disaster for a whole crop, Schreiber said.
Aphids and other pests could live in the untreated area and then devastate the rest of the crop very quickly, he said.
Some problems, if left untreated, could result in a 100 percent crop loss, Mullen said.
And the result could be more chemicals, not less, on potato crops like his, he said.
"You are going to spray that (crop) more and more times because you have more and more (insects) reinfesting the area," he said.
Farmers are hoping the judge will determine the necessary buffers by addressing the chemicals individually, not with a broad stroke, Hansen said.
Salmon advocates want change, but say they too are concerned about the state's farmers.
"I don't believe that farmers want to poison rivers, nor do they make that much money doing so," Spain said. "I am sympathetic to the farmers, but we are commercial fishers and we produce food too."
Mullen said government regulation is pinching farmers on all sides.
"If you can't raise crops on it, you are going to turn it into houses," he said. "Especially if you are close to the river. And I can't turn it into houses fast enough."
List of 54 Pesticides under review.
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