Public opposition to pesticide spraying in Rio Arriba

By Teresa Seamster, NM Pesticide Working Group

Public opposition to pesticide spraying in Rio Arriba

The Rio Grande Chapter’s recent “Aerial Pesticide Alert” resulted in over 250 personalized comments from members, and thousands from residents and organizations, opposing the USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service’s (APHIS) proposal to spray close to 40 square miles of public lands in the Cebolla area of Rio Arriba County between April and June.

APHIS’s draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Mormon Cricket Suppression Program in northern New Mexico raised multiple concerns last year when the State Land Office (SLO), Taos Bureau of Land Management (BLM), residents, and members of tribal, local government and conservation organizations wrote to describe potential impacts on wildlife, public health, water sources and lack of public involvement. The proposed spraying of the carcinogenic insecticide, carbaryl, over federal lands was strongly opposed by commenters.

These objections resulted in SLO and BLM withdrawing their acres from the program and the 2023 project was stopped. This year, a similar project is being proposed in Rio Arriba County based on projections of a higher-than-normal cricket population on some public grazing lands.

The draft EA claims that the use of diflubenzuron (Dimilin 2) is unlikely to contaminate water given its low solubility and affinity for organic material. But pesticides with similar chemicals routinely runoff into waterways and persist in the riparian sediments, especially in dry arroyos and ephemeral streams. Dimilin has also been shown to be extremely toxic to aquatic invertebrates essential to fish and other species that feed on mollusks and insects. Further, the EA does not mention the obligations required by federal agencies to identify and protect federally listed species that share the same habitat as grasshoppers and crickets.

Current research shows a three-mile buffer around all water sources, intermittent streams and wetlands, threatened and endangered species habitat and human-inhabited areas to be the recommended safe “drift” zone, not ¼ mile. (Tepedino, 2000)

The NM Pesticide Working group, consisting of members from the Xerces Society, UNM, NM Wild, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Environmental Law Center, the Rio Grande Chapter and others, recently submitted detailed comments to APHIS and is working to prohibit aerial spraying and the use of carbaryl and broad-spectrum pesticides on public lands.

Additional recommendations include 1) APHIS proposed treatment areas should be mapped and shared with the public showing land status and sensitive designations, 2) nymphal surveys should be provided along with 3) “economic threshold” analysis of treatments.

Feared image from USDA Forest Service via Flickr

Public opposition to pesticide spraying in Rio Arriba