Tuesday, October 24, 2006
By Serdar Tumgoren
Gilroy - The California red-legged frog will be protected from 66 potentially harmful pesticides commonly used by farmers as part of a legal settlement between federal environmental officials and a nonprofit conservation group.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to prohibit use of the pesticides in or near vital red-legged frog habitats throughout California until the EPA, working in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), confirms the chemicals do not threaten the species. The study is expected to last three years.
The settlement came in response to a 2002 lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation group based in San Francisco. In 2005, the U.S. District Court of Northern California found that the EPA had violated the Endangered Species Act by registering pesticides for use without considering how they might affect the red-legged frog.
"Some of those pesticides will be reviewed sooner rather than later; and nobody knows for sure what the results will be," said CBD legal counsel Brent Plater. "But of course these were selected for their toxicity, so I don't think we run the risk of finding these things benign. These pesticides are designed to kill."
Coyote Valley just north of Morgan Hill, where San Jose hopes to develop, is also habitat for the red-legged frog and other several endangered and threatened species such as the California Tiger Salamander and the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly.
Plater said the resolution strikes a balance between the interest of farmers and the red-legged frog by only limiting their use in areas identified as habitat for the creature. In addition to banning the use of more than five dozen pesticides in frog habitats, the settlement mandates a pesticide-free buffer zone adjoining the habitats: 200 feet for aerial pesticide applications and 60 feet for ground applications.
"It doesn't say don't spray these pesticides anywhere in the county," Plater explained. "It says don't spray them on the frog or the frog's home. Those can be defined pretty clearly.
Historically abundant throughout California, red-legged frogs have disappeared from 70 percent of their former range, according to the CBD. Studies point to "pesticide drift" from the Central Valley as a source of the declines of several native frog species in the Sierra Nevada, including red-legged frogs.