For Immediate Release, July 17, 2009
Conservationists Stop Herbicide Spraying on 1.5 Million Acres of Public Land
Bureau of Land Management Urged to End Its Addiction to Toxins
ROSWELL, N.M.— In response to an appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, the Bureau of Land Management today announced that it has withdrawn a plan to allow herbicide spraying across 1.5 million acres in southeastern New Mexico. The conservation groups applauded the decision and urged land managers to end their addiction to toxic chemicals.
The proposal was the broadest yet seen in New Mexico, covering the entire area managed by the Roswell Field Office, including source-water zones for the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most biologically significant wetland complexes in the Pecos River watershed. The Bureau of Land Management failed to look at any alternatives to herbicide use or impacts to water quality, human health, or endangered species, in violation of legal requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.
“The agency admits that toxic herbicides can poison water, make people sick, and kill plants and wildlife already on the brink of extinction,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It must take a hard look at alternatives and tell the public where, how, and why it will use these dangerous chemicals.”
A dozen endangered species exist within the Roswell field office, including two fishes, the Pecos bluntnose shiner and Pecos gambusia; plants such as the Pecos sunflower; and four invertebrates (three snails and a shrimp) found only on the Bitter Lake refuge. Herbicides could harm those species by contaminating their habitat or through direct ingestion. Under the Endangered Species Act, when a project may affect federally protected species, the Bureau of Land Management is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which it failed to do in this case.
“The BLM overlooked impacts to some of the rarest species in the state, seemingly determined to write itself a blank check to proceed with herbicide use,” said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “We’re pleased by the withdrawal of this reckless plan, which would have allowed the agency to apply toxic chemicals wherever and whenever it chose despite the dangers herbicides pose to endangered species and drinking water.”
While the Bureau withdrew its plan to target noxious weeds on 1.5 million acres, it has separately proposed to spray herbicides on more than 700,000 acres of public lands managed by the Roswell Field Office with the Macho Draw, North Lincoln, and West Chaves “restoration” projects targeting native shrubs and trees such as acacia, creosote, mesquite, cholla, and juniper.
“We agree with the need to treat noxious weeds, but underlying causes of infestation also need scrutiny, and that means taking a hard look at grazing and fossil-fuel extraction,” Lininger said. “The Bureau wastes taxpayer resources and threatens public health when it blindly sprays weeds everywhere it manages for multiple uses.”