Aerial spraying

A helicopter prepares to apply pesticides. A judge has invalidated an ordinance banning aerial spraying in Oregon’s Lincoln County.

We have often argued in this space that farmers, ranchers and timbermen can’t effectively operate if county and local governments are able to pass their own and disparate regulations.

An Oregon judge last month upheld that idea when she invalidated Lincoln County’s prohibition against aerial pesticide spraying because the ordinance is pre-empted by state law.

In a 2017 special election, voters in Lincoln County approved a ban on aerial spraying with 50.2% of the vote. Supporters of the initiative, fearful that county officials would not enforce the ban, had written into the measure provisions that allowed citizens to enforce the law through “direct action” if the county government or court fail to uphold the ordinance.

The ban was challenged in a lawsuit filed by landowners Rex Capri and Wakefield Farms, who rely on aerial spraying. They argued that local restrictions on spraying are pre-empted by the state’s Pesticide Control Act, Forest Practices Act and the “right to farm and forest” law.

Supporters argued that Oregon law that pre-empts local governments from regulating pesticides is unconstitutional. They said the county has an inherent “natural right” to local community self-government that should be affirmed by the judge.

The judge disagreed.

Lincoln County Circuit Judge Sheryl Bachart has now ruled that Oregon’s Pesticide Control Act disallows local government regulation of pesticides, including aerial spraying.

“Since the ordinance seeks by its very terms to regulate pesticide use, the county is completely pre-empted under state law from adopting any ordinance regarding pesticide use,” the judge said.

The judge rejected arguments by supporters of the ban who argued the ordinance’s legality was supported by the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Oregon Constitution, calling these claims “misplaced” and without legal precedent.

“There is simply no authority for the proposition that the people of Lincoln County are granted an inalienable right of local self-government which pre-empts any authority of the state,” she wrote.

We agree. There needs to be one set of rules throughout the state.

We understand that there are agricultural practices that some Oregonians don’t agree with. Many of those things, such as pesticide application, are heavily regulated. But such regulation as is required should come from the state.

Local voters with little first-hand agriculture experience can be easily swayed by emotional arguments short on facts and long on fear mongering.

Allowing hundreds of sovereign duchies to create a patchwork of regulation would make operating in the state all but impossible.

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