Bay Area Endangered Species Spared From Harmful Pesticides

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By Jon Harnmuanphongs
Metro Editor

Local endangered species get a chance at survival due to a federal injunction restricting the use of various pesticides.

“One of the local endangered species affected by the inappropriate use of pesticides is the Alameda Whip Snake, which is native to the Hayward Hills,” said Jeff Miller, Conservation Advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity based in San Francisco.

“Other endangered or threatened species affected by this injunction are the California Tiger Salamander, Bay Checkerspot Butterfly, California Clapper Rail, California Freshwater Shrimp, Delta Smelt, Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, San Francisco Garter Snake, San Joaquin Kit Fox, Tidewater Goby and Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle,” said Miller.

The injunction is a result of a 2007 lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Endangered Species Act. The federal injunction has imposed interim restrictions on the use of 75 pesticides in eight Bay Area counties while the EPA evaluates the potential harmful effects on local endangered species over the next five years.

“Some of these pesticides will outright kill these animals, where others will interfere with reproduction,” said Miller. “It depends on the pesticide and the consentration levels.”

Mary Simms, the media relations person for the San Francisco branch of the EPA refused to comment on the local impact that the injuntion would have on local imperiled wildlife and referred The Pioneer to EPA Public Relations official, Dale Kemery, in Washington D.C. Calls to Kemery were not returned.

“The point of the lawsuit is to make the EPA evaluate the potential impact on wildlife,” said Miller. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has expertise on the matter and will conduct an assessment.”

The EPA is required under the Endangered Species Act to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over registration and approved uses of pesticides that may harm listed species or their critical habitat. Under federal law, the EPA is obligated to avoid authorizing pesticides that jeopardize endangered species.

The Center for Biological Diversity has accused the EPA of, “consistently failing to evaluate or adequately regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species without citizen lawsuits and court-ordered time lines.”

In 2006 the Center for Biological Diversity won a similar settlement prohibiting the use of 66 pesticides in and adjacent to California red-legged frog habitats statewide.

“One of the pesticides restricted in the injunction is atrazine,” said Miller. “In studies on frogs conducted by Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a Berkely professor and researcher, atrazine has the effect of chemically castrating and/or feminizing frogs. Atrazine is one of the most common contaminants found in our drinking water. The studies on frogs has been compared to the canary in the coal mine. Atrazine gets in our water through aerial drift or soil runoff and is used commercially and residentially.”

The injunction has set deadlines for the EPA to conduct “effects determinations” on the 75 pesticides in question. The EPA must postpone the authorization of their use in, and adjacent to, endangered species habitats within eight Bay Area counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma) until the determinations and consultation are completed. The EPA began this process in Oct. 2008 and must complete the determinations by Sept. 30, 2014.

The EPA must also create a bilingual brochure and must create a shelf tag for retailers that sell the pesticides listed in the injunction that describe in graphic detail the adverse effects on endangered species in the Bay Area.