WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service released a final biological opinion today establishing critical protections for salmon and Puget Sound orcas from exposure to three widely used insecticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion.
Today’s analysis finalizes a March draft biological opinion that concluded the three insecticides put 37 protected species in jeopardy of extinction and harm their designated critical habitat.
“This is how pesticide consultations are supposed to work. The Fisheries Service followed the science and the law, and now salmon and orcas will receive long-overdue protections,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency should be commended for upholding scientific integrity despite industry pressure to water down restrictions on these pesticides.”
The draft opinion recommended a set of mandatory, on-the-ground conservation measures to protect salmon, sturgeon and steelhead from these pesticides, including spray buffers of up to almost 1,000 feet. Because the Environmental Protection Agency and pesticide manufactures have now agreed to implement the conservation measures required by the Fisheries Service, the agency was able to reach a final “no jeopardy” determination on the pesticides.
The final biological opinion requires dramatic reductions in the amount of the three pesticides that will reach streams and rivers inhabited by endangered species. Agricultural users must limit spraying anywhere from nearly 500 feet to nearly 1,000 feet from streams and leave a vegetative buffer strip that captures pesticide pollution before it enters the water.
Pesticides users can implement alternative measures such as participating in recognized watershed-stewardship programs if spraying must occur closer to streams and rivers. The EPA will also develop a rigorous monitoring system to track mosquito control operations, which will still be allowed to continue under much tighter oversight.
The Fisheries Service’s required measures are much more comprehensive and protective than those required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which released a biological opinion just for malathion two months ago. In contrast to the buffers of hundreds of feet required by the Fisheries Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service only required buffers of just under 20 feet to protect bull trout. Bull trout are found in most of the same rivers and streams as Pacific Salmon and are actually more sensitive to pollution than most salmon species.
In 2017 the Fish and Wildlife Service published a draft biological opinion finding malathion potentially harmed 1,284 species. Trump administration Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt stopped that opinion from being finalized.
In 2021 the Fish and Wildlife Service revised its assessment for malathion and found that the pesticide would jeopardize only 78 species. The agency then subsequently backtracked further, finding that malathion would not jeopardize a single species based on future, substantially weaker and unenforceable conservation measures that the pesticide industry proposed.
“Sadly, the Fish and Wildlife Service is a victim of Stockholm Syndrome after being held hostage by the pesticide industry through the Trump administration,” said Hartl. “Had the Wildlife Service followed the science and the law they would have reached the same conclusions as the National Marine Fisheries Service. But instead, more than 1,000 threatened and endangered species will continue to suffer needlessly because of the agency’s failures.”