Federal District Court Judge John Coughenour has issued an order indicating that he will impose restrictions on pesticide uses that contaminate water and harm endangered salmon. The ruling came in a case brought by fishing and conservation groups.
"Despite its legal obligation not to allow actions that harm endangered salmon, EPA has continued to authorize the use of dangerous pesticides that are ending up in salmon streams," said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice attorney that represented the groups. "The court agreed to block the use of pesticides along salmon streams until the government has ensured salmon will not be harmed."
"It makes no sense to keep poisoning salmon in our rivers while trying to protect them," said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, one of the Plaintiff groups. "As the judge said, buffer zones to keep chemicals out of streams is a logical and already much used technique. It's also a logical step toward restoring a billion dollar salmon fishing industry to our region."
In July 2002 Judge Coughenour found EPA out of compliance with the Endangered Species Act with respect to pesticides that pose a threat to salmon. Under the Endangered Species Act, EPA is required to ensure that the pesticide uses it authorizes will not jeopardize endangered species. He ordered EPA to begin the process of bringing its pesticide authorizations into compliance with the law by consulting with the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine permanent restrictions needed to protect salmon from 54 pesticides.
Fishing and environmental groups asked the court to impose interim measures to protect salmon from the 54 pesticides during the time it will take EPA to comply with the law. In the order, the court found "with reasonable scientific certainty, that the requested buffer zones – 20 yards for ground applications, 100 yards for aerial applications – will, unlike the status quo, substantially contribute to the prevention of jeopardy" to salmon.
He further found that the evidence "demonstrate[s] that pesticide-application buffer zones are a common, simple, and effective strategy to avoid jeopardy to threatened and endangered salmonids."
"Salmon can't escape pesticides and the harm they cause in our rivers and streams," said Erika Schreder of the Washington Toxics Coalition. "This order means salmon will have a fighting chance while EPA does its job."
"Pesticides not only pose a threat to every aspect of salmon survival, from reproduction to their habitat needs. Pesticides that pollute water and harm salmon also present a clear threat to people and our health," said Aimee Code of the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.
The court will hold a hearing on August 14 to decide the specific size of the buffers that will be required for particular pesticide uses and to decide whether to impose additional restrictions on urban uses of 13 pesticides frequently found in urban streams. A final ruling will follow the hearing.