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Monday, January 26, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Salmon protection from lawn to farm

Agricultural interests — and taxpayer-supported salmon-recovery efforts — were ill-served by the Environmental Protection Agency ignoring pesticide hazards for years.

No matter how hard the EPA might have been lobbied by those same farm interests, the agency is supposed to see the bigger picture, and follow the law.

Federal District Judge John Coughenour Thursday ordered temporary buffer zones around salmon-bearing streams, and restricted the use of dozens of pesticides until the EPA drafts permanent rules to protect salmon.

After years of being out of compliance with the Endangered Species Act, the agency was ordered by Coughenour in 2002 to protect salmon from harmful pesticides. The lawsuit was brought by commercial-fishing and environmental groups.

His latest ruling establishes temporary protection while the bureaucratic process putters along, but the judge was not opining about process. Coughenour clearly acknowledges actual harm is being done and protection is needed.

Coughenour's latest directive creates a 20-yard buffer for ground application of selected pesticides, and 100 yards for aerial applications. In the meantime, EPA is supposed to do what it did not before the lawsuit: meet with NOAA Fisheries to establish regulations for 54 pesticides.

The judge's ruling appropriately points a finger at city dwellers. Responsibility for a share of the problem, and a healthy part of the solution, falls to urban gardeners and lawn tenders.

Seasonal spikes in pesticide application are found in urban waterways. The judge has ordered "Salmon Hazard" signs posted at hardware and garden stores, with an accompanying explanation of the problem.

Buffers and restrictions are already in place in many agricultural settings. Many of the farms and orchards are a long way from salmon streams. The judge's order will require adjustments for some, but no one predicts a vast industry grinding to a halt. The ruling applies in Oregon, Washington and California.

Timely, conscientious EPA involvement could have eliminated all the drama.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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