Panel nixes buffer push
1,000-foot buffer request alarms farmers, foresters
By MITCH LIES
BEND, Ore. -- State regulators have denied a petition requesting the creation of pesticide-free buffers around rivers and streams.
The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission's Oct. 25 vote was unanimous.
The petition, brought Aug. 9 by Northwest Environmental Advocates, asked the commission to initiate rulemaking to protect humans, fish and wildlife from chemical runoff. Among other measures, it requested the commission consider imposing pesticide-free buffers of up to 1,000 feet along waterways.
The petition drew significant opposition in a Sept. 17 hearing in Portland, when 13 of 14 people who testified urged the commission deny it. And at a commission meeting here Sept. 25, Department of Environmental Quality staff recommended the commission deny the petition.
DEQ water quality specialist Debra Sturdevant said the proposal "would have devastating economic impacts" on agriculture and forestry in Oregon, and is overly restrictive in asking the commission to impose "prescriptive" practices on farmers and foresters.
Sturdevant also said the proposal would adversely impact human health, fish and the environment by preventing the control of disease vectors and invasive species in buffer zones.
Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, said she was disappointed in the commission's decision, but not surprised.
"This just shows ... that when it comes to protecting salmon and health, the hard decisions never get made," Bell said.
Scott Dahlman, executive director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, said he was pleased. "We think the DEQ staff and the EQC made the right decision here," he said.
"I think there was a firm recognition that there are more pragmatic ways for us to deal with any pesticide issue that may arise than a blanketing of buffers across our landscape," Dahlman said.
"The biggest problem with those kind of buffers on forestry is it would have made it very, very difficult to meet our reforestation requirements under the forest practices act," said Gary Springer, a member of the Oregon Board of Forestry and a forester with Starker Forests in Corvallis. "We use herbicides to control unwanted weed species so our trees can grow."
Dahlman said the buffers would have devastated Oregon farm production, particularly in the western side of the state.
"You are talking about buffers of up to 1,000 feet around any waterways that are salmon bearing or could lead to a salmon bearing waterway -- which is pretty much every stream in the western half of the state of Oregon," Dahlman said.
"And when you start taking 1,000 feet off both sides of those, you are taking acres and acres of land out of production essentially," Dahlman said, "because they are not able to use the tools to protect that land anymore and it becomes useless to them."