New buffer rules worry Western growers

With the comment period closed since April on proposed buffer zone regulations by the National Marine and Fisheries Service, Pacific Northwest farmers are anticipating what rules will impact them and when.

NMFS “hearings” held during the comment period “amounted to little more than a reading of their proposed rules,” says Heather Hansen, Washington Friends of Farms and Forests executive director. “When we questioned their proposals at these hearings, they only responded with, ‘This is the way we see things,’ rather than addressing our concerns,” she says.

If the new buffer rules are enforced as now written, “they would affect 75% of the farmland in Washington alone,” she says. Under the new NMFS rules, practically any waterway running through a farm would be required to establish a no-pesticide buffer zone of as much as 1,000 feet wide.

“This would have a profound impact,” says Hansen. “Some of the most valuable crops would be affected, including berries, apples, cherries, winegrapes — all really high-dollar commodities.” All the PNW would feel the blow of such buffer rules, which many farmers claim would run them out of agricultural production.

Drains included

In the new rules, even streams that do not run all year would be included, as would drains. The rule rewrite comes as a result of a federal judge decree in 2002 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted inadequate studies on the impact of pesticides on salmon.

In an effort to address agriculture’s concerns over the proposed buffer changes, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, who represents Washington, sent a letter signed by 17 members of Congress on Jan. 27 to Natural Resources Council Chair Nancy Sutley urging her to help halt implementation.

“These regulations will cost jobs, adversely impact trade of our agricultural commodities, and impose a significant blow to our already struggling economy,” wrote Hastings. “The Administrator must go back to the drawing board and review regulations that were based on questionable science and written with little input from those most affected.”

Sutley responded in late March, but failed to address the chief concerns expressed in Hastings’ letter regarding revisiting the regulations.

“At a recent meeting [in Washington, D.C.], the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration acknowledged that … they would not be amending or changing any previous bi-ops [biological opinions], and that they would proceed forward using the same flawed modeling on upcoming bi-ops,” reports Hansen.

Lawsuits could affect the final direction of the proposed regulations, all surrounding the salmon population of the West.

This article published in the May, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.