Groups try to limit Mormon cricket spraying

Wednesday, April 30, 2003
The South Idaho Press
By LAURIE WELCH South Idaho Press

Four environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to limit grasshopper spaying on federal land. The suit was filed in Pocatello in U.S. District Court, according to the attorney representing the groups.

The Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) program would have sprayed insecticides to control Mormon crickets and grasshoppers on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service land in southern Idaho for the first time in 20 years.

The Idaho Conservation League, Advocates for the West, Xerces Society and Committee for the High Desert have filed a law suit to limit the spraying citing possible impacts of the insecticide.

“We have grave concerns about the impacts that this program will have on human health and water quality,” said Justin Hayes, program director for the Idaho Conservation League.

The groups asked APHIS to scale back the program and use other methods to control the insects like using different methods of applying the insecticides to limit drift and using smaller amounts as well as biological control.

“We are asking them to step back and take a look at the program,” said Todd Tucci, attorney with Advocates for the West, who represents the four conservation groups.

Tucci said they want APHIS to live up to a settlement agreement from 2000 or sit down with them and discuss measures to control the ‘apparent explosion’ of insects on public lands.

Tucci said the program will spray swaths up to 10,000 acres with insecticides instead of limiting spray to interface areas where public and private land adjoin.

Dave McNeal, director of APHIS said “We are coming to a decision about what program we will proceed with probably today.”

McNeal said he could not comment further on the lawsuit.

“Insects play a critical role in ecosystems, especially the pollination of plants. When you try to control grasshoppers you need to strike a balance, not eliminate virtually all the insects in an area,” said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director for Xerces Society, which promotes the conservation of invertebrates.

Tucci said APHIS did not examine the impacts of the spaying program with regards to the environmental laws.

“In fact, APHIS ignored even the EPA’s own concerns over this projects impacts on public safety and the environment,” Tucci said.

Tucci said the groups appealed to APHIS in a letter stating “my clients wish to emphasize that they do not desire to halt all grasshopper control actions this summer entirely; but instead believe that the program can be better tailored to avoid unnecessary environmental harm or threats to public health, and are willing to discuss their ideas in that regard with you.”

Tucci said APHIS officials did not respond to the letter forcing the group to file litigation.

“APHIS is proposing to spray some very toxic insecticides very near people and right on top of some waterways,” he said.

The groups said the APHIS program designed to kill Mormon Crickets and grasshoppers violates environmental laws by using insecticides which are toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates and humans.

The groups claim the program provides a 500-foot no aerial spray zone around schools using at least one chemical classified as a potential human carcinogen. Commercial beehives would receive a one-mile no spray buffer and rivers with protected fish and snail would have a half-mile no spray buffer. Waterways without endangered fish would get less protection.

The APHIS program uses a broad-spectrum insecticide, which will kill most insects including bees as well as birds like mountain bluebirds, meadowlarks, pheasants and sage grouse by eliminating their food source.

“The insecticides that APHIS is proposing to use are highly toxic broad-spectrum insecticides and they will wreak havoc on the complex communities of invertebrates that inhabit the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem where they are applied,” said Hoffman Black.

Katie Fite, with the Committee for the High Desert said Malathion and other insecticides will be sprayed on large blocks of public lands, which are not close to crop land killing insects used for food for sage grouse and songbirds.