Senators get earful on looming pesticide regulations
Proposed restriction could dramatically limit spraying
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- Farmers are bearing the brunt of the federal Endangered Species Act, Dan Newhouse, director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture, told lawmakers.
Testifying Jan. 11 before the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee, Newhouse said the issue of pesticide use puts agricultural producers in a tight spot.
"This is very impactful to the ag industry, and we're seeing the process coming to a very critical point," he said.
Farmers need to be allowed to use tools critical to their operation, he said, and despite limitations the federal government has placed on pesticide use, "Salmon will see no benefit."
He urged the legislators to point out that impact to their federal counterparts.
"We're at the point of the spear" in Washington state, he said.
Berry grower Brian Cieslar of Lynden, Wash., described to the committee the impact of required no-spray buffers on his operation, Enfield Farms.
He distributed to the legislators a photo of part of the farm.
Of the 97 acres in the picture, stream setbacks prohibit spraying on all but half of an acre. He estimated that 90 to 95 percent of blueberry production area in Whatcom County comes under the 500-foot rule.
Nate Wilson, an aerial applicator in the Columbia Basin area, said that if proposed federal regulations go through, only 9.4 acres of a 160-acre field could be sprayed.
James Coles, environmental toxicologist at WSDA, said surface water monitoring in Washington since 2003 has shown pesticide concentrations below the effects threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"The economic impacts on producers were not assessed," he said. Nor was there stakeholder involvement in the process.
"It disturbs me that the feds can tell us how to raise food," said Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville.
Lobbyist Heather Hansen, of Washington Friends of Farms and Forests, showed legislators a map of the land area affected by setbacks: 61 percent of Washington and 55 percent of Oregon.
"The consultation process is broken," Hansen said. Federal agencies, in particular the National Marine Fisheries Service, have not listened, she said. She emphasized the need for a clear, transparent process using the best available science.
She urged legislators to use whatever influence they have. "Other states are looking to Washington to lead the way," she said.
Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, said he would recommend calling a special meeting with federal decision-makers. "It's an emergency to mitigate this," he said.