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Judge Favors Pesticide-Free Zones on Some West Coast Salmon Streams
(Beyond Pesticides, August 18, 2003) According to the Seattle Times, the successful federal lawsuit to protect threatened salmon and steelhead from pesticides is likely to result in hundreds of miles of no-spray buffers along streams and waterways that stretch from Washington to Southern California. U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour originally issued his order on the case, which was filed by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Washington Toxics Coalition and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, on July 17, 2003.

"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. "Requiring minimal buffer zones is a logical step toward restoring a billion-dollar salmon-fishing industry to our region."

U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour plans to have the new protections in place in time for next spring's farming season. His order is expected to push back pesticide use along hundreds of miles of waterways that harbor salmon and steelhead runs protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. Salmon streams with healthy runs would not gain the protection.

The restrictions have jolted regional farm groups and national pesticide-industry groups that have intervened in the case. But just how far the rollback will go - and what chemicals it will cover - has yet to be determined.

The Seattle Times reported that Judge Coughenour directed the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental groups and industry representatives to try to negotiate the terms of an order that he expects to issue following the end of this year's fall crop season. These will be high-stakes negotiations.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture study submitted to the court stated that the measure could trigger crop losses in Washington and Oregon of more than $100 million annually if a 20-yard buffer - the minimum sought by environmentalists for many pesticides - were put into effect for 54 pesticides. Federal agricultural officials admitted that these losses represented a worst-case scenario, with farmers opting to tear out fruit trees in the no-spray zones and unable to gain any compensation payments from the federal government. Roughly 85 percent of the projected losses would be in Washington, primarily in vegetable and fruit farm areas east of the Cascades.

Judge Coughenour, in an earlier ruling, found that the EPA had failed to comply with Endangered Species Act requirements to assess the risks that as many as 54 pesticides pose to salmon. And he embraced no-spray buffers of up to 100 yards for aerial spraying and 20 yards for ground spraying as a good starting point for developing the new restrictions.

"This is huge," said Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm that represents the plaintiffs. "Under the normal way of doing business, nothing happens until the evidence is so strong that it knocks you over."