Yesterday, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a "biological opinion" finding that three pesticides — carbaryl, carbofuran, and methomyl — jeopardize the existence of protected salmon and steelhead. The biological opinion prescribes measures necessary to keep these pesticides out of salmon waters in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho. It is the second such plan issued in the last six months under a court settlement with fishermen and conservationists.
The new mitigation measures must be implemented within one year. They include:
- Prohibiting aerial applications of the three pesticides within 600 to 1,000 feet of salmon waters
- Prohibiting ground applications of the three pesticides within 50 to 600 feet of salmon waters
- Prohibiting applications of the three pesticides when wind speeds are greater than or equal to 10 mph
"Salmon runs all along the west coast are collapsing, and our rivers becoming a toxic soup of pesticides is surely one of the causes," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. "This new NMFS decision will help keep pesticides out of salmon-bearing streams and is a step toward protecting these economically valuable salmon runs and the tens of thousands of jobs they support. It just makes sense for EPA to stop allowing pesticides to pollute salmon-bearing rivers, especially when so many other agencies are spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to try to save these endangered salmon runs."
The three pesticides at issue in the biological opinion are known to contaminate rivers and streams throughout California and the Pacific Northwest and poison salmon and steelhead.
"The federal government has a duty to protect imperiled salmon from these deadly pesticides," said Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney for Earthjustice, the environmental law firm that represented the salmon advocates. "It’s high time we reduce or eliminate the use of deadly pesticides in order to protect salmon, an icon of the Pacific Northwest’s natural heritage."
Many of the mitigation measures required in the new biological opinion mirror those NMFS mandated in a previous biological opinion for three organophosphate pesticides. However, in that prior decision, as well as in a draft of yesterday’s decision, NMFS required 20-foot non-crop vegetative buffers to be left along all waterways impacting salmon. NMFS deleted that requirement from the final decision.
"We’re excited by the progress that this decision represents," said Aimee Code, the Water Quality Coordinator for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP). "But we’re concerned that NMFS backslid on an essential element needed to protect salmon. The science indicates that healthy vegetation next to rivers and streams filters out pollutants."
NMFS has now determined that current uses of all six of the pesticides it has reviewed so far are jeopardizing the existence of west coast salmon and steelhead. The Environmental Protection Agency — the federal agency charged with regulating pesticide use — had earlier determined that many salmon runs were not at risk from these six pesticides. NMFS’s review found serious flaws with EPA’s analytical methods and conclusions, and determined that EPA underestimated the risk that the pesticides pose to salmon. "Today’s findings are an example of why it’s so important for the fish and wildlife scientists at NMFS to provide an independent check on other agencies’ findings about endangered species," said Earthjustice’s Osborne-Klein.
But in the final days of the Bush administration, the federal government significantly weakened the protections provided by the consultation process between EPA and NMFS that produced today’s decision. "The Bush administration’s warped interpretation of the law removed the voices of scientific experts responsible for protecting salmon," continued Osborne-Klein. Those last-minute regulations are currently being reconsidered by the Obama administration.
Thirty-one more pesticides will undergo review by the National Marine Fisheries Service over the next three years. The next opinion, reviewing 12 pesticides, is due on June 30, 2010.
Read the biological opinion
Read a fact sheet about the biological opinion (PDF)