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Pesticides Reduction
Roswell Daily Record, July 17, 2009

BLM will clarify policy on noxious-weed spraying after appeal
By Cid Standifer

The Bureau of Land Management announced on Wednesday that it will withdraw its proposed new policy for using herbicides on noxious weeds until the language can be clarified.

The policy, called an environmental assessment, is the subject of an appeal filed by WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity. The environmental groups feared that the BLM would essentially be allowed to carpet-bomb about 1.5 million acres of land in the Roswell Field Office jurisdiction with toxic chemicals.

BLM officials say that was never their intention, and the new wording of the EA will make sure that's clear.

Hans Stuart, spokesman for the BLM, said that the new policy will be just like the old spot-treatment policy for noxious weeds. Instead of using aerial spraying, employees will find the weeds out in the field and spray them directly with Environmental Protection Agency-approved herbicides using tanks carried on all-terrain vehicles or backpacks.

"The practices didn't change," said BLM Pecos District Manager Doug Burger, "because we're still using little pump-up weed sprayers or sprayers attached to the back of ATVs. ... We just are trying to get our document up to speed."

Burger said that the BLM wrote a new EA because the federal government updated its guidelines on noxious weed control in 2007 with a new list of usable herbicides, and the New Mexico BLM needed to keep up. Until a new EA is approved, they'll continue spraying under the old EA, which BLM officials say is almost identical to what they plan to do in the future.

But the environmental groups voiced concerns that the new EA didn't include requirements that the BLM explore other options for removing noxious weeds first. Stuart said that the clarifications will explicitly state that they will continue to hand-pull, mechanically remove or burn weeds where possible, but some weeds with extensive root systems can only effectively be eradicated with poison.

As an example, he pointed to African rue, an invasive species with deep roots. The plant is highly toxic, and Burger said that cattle who try to feed on it can suffer paralysis and die. Unfortunately, the weed crowds out species that are good for animals, which the Burger calls "ice-cream plants," and turns green early in the year, making it extra-tempting for livestock.

Nicole Rosmarino with WildEarth Guardians said she was pleased that the BLM will reconsider the EA and rule out aerial spraying, but won't endorse the next draft yet.

"It depends on what they come back with," she said. "Certainly, the environmental assessment that they withdrew was horrible. It didn't specify where and when they were going to spray herbicides."

Rosmarino said that she would like the BLM to submit a map detailing where the highest concentrations of noxious weeds are and be more specific about what chemicals they use, and does not believe they have fully explored the effects of herbicide use on endangered animals. She also argued that the BLM's response doesn't address the main causes of noxious weed infestations, which she believes are the uses the agency allows of its lands. She said that livestock grazing and oil and gas production disturb the soil, which give noxious weeds a foothold.

"We all know that these land uses are not going to stop tomorrow, but we can discern where there are real problem areas," she said.

Jay Lininger of the Center for Biological Diversity agreed.

"Until it looks at all of these factors in combination," he said, "they're going to blindly chase weeds across the landscape. ... A multiple-use mandate doesn't excuse the Bureau from taking a hard look at the effects of its actions."

Burger said that the BLM is mandated to allow multiple uses on its property by Congress. He also said that it would be useless to provide maps showing where they planned to eradicate noxious weeds because they will change whenever employees find new outcroppings of them.

Burger said that he hopes the BLM will have the clarifications finished in a few weeks.

Copyright 2009 Roswell Daily Record

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton