Court mandates buffer zones for five insecticides to protect salmon, steelhead

By From page A7 | August 29, 2014

A buffer around salmon and steelhead watersheds will help protect the fish from five insecticides commonly used in farming.

Following a 2013 lawsuit filed by the Northwest Council for Alternatives to Pesticides, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed last week to reinstate a 2004 court ruling that requires 20-yard buffer zones for ground applications and 100-yard buffer zones for aerial applications, with some exceptions. The restrictions apply only to counties that support salmon and steelhead in California, Oregon and Washington.

The five pesticides — malathion, diazinon, chlorpyrifos, carbaryl and methyl — can affect development of fish, kill off beneficial insects or cause fish death outright. However, they are also vital for keeping pests from chewing through alfalfa fields, fruit orchards and other important crops. A buffer zone helps prevent pesticides from accidentally leaking into aquatic habitats.

“There’s a lot of coastal steelhead swimming up small streams subject to pesticide exposure,” said Lowell Ashbaugh, the conservation chair of the Fly Fishers of Davis.

Ashbaugh is also on the board of directors of the Northern California chapter of the Federation of Fly Fishers, which supported the lawsuit.

Around Davis, Putah Creek’s trickling waters are the closest place to fly-fish. The local chapter takes trips to coastal rivers and north to the Trinity and Klamath rivers, which both run alongside farmland.

The buffer zone had previously been instated in 2004, while the National Marine Fisheries Service reviewed the effects of an array of pesticides on salmonids. Following findings that the pesticides could imperil the fish, the fisheries service recommended changes to product labels.

The council for alternatives to pesticides filed its first complaint in 2010, alleging that the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to implement any of the recommendations.

These interim measures will remain in place until the EPA implements permanent protections, pending a second investigation by the fisheries service into the five insecticides.

Elizabeth Case

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