Comments Note Failures to Analyze Toxic Effects to Groundwater and Wildlife
The Center for Biological Diversity today filed comments detailing concerns about the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to apply chemical herbicides for noxious-weed control on nearly 1.5 million acres of public land in eastern New Mexico, including source-water zones that feed groundwater springs in the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
The agency issued its proposal in an Environmental Assessment on April 20.
The Center comments note failures of the Bureau’s field office in Roswell to properly assess how herbicides may poison groundwater and wildlife. They also question why the agency did not consider how ongoing management practices contribute to the spread of noxious weeds.
Under a 2007 decision authorizing herbicide use on public land in 17 western states, the Bureau is required to designate “herbicide-specific” buffer zones for local water bodies. In addition, it must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when its actions may affect threatened or endangered species.
The Roswell assessment meets neither of those conditions, according to Jay Lininger, a Center ecologist.
“The Bureau of Land Management admits that toxic herbicides can poison groundwater and wildlife,” Lininger said. “But agency disregard for basic protections seriously threatens the environment.”
In addition to the Bitter Lake refuge, one of the most biologically significant wetland areas in the Pecos River watershed, the public lands managed by the Roswell office host 11 animals and three plants listed under the Endangered Species Act, as well as five other species that are candidates for listing.
Some of the wildlife that could be affected by chemical spraying live in small areas and can’t escape if their habitat becomes toxic.
“Spraying chemicals without consideration for wildlife that may be affected poses an existential threat to some species,” Lininger said.
The Bureau also should carefully consider how grazing, oil and gas leasing, and recreation activities spread noxious weeds and create a need to use toxic herbicides, he said. “Noxious weeds pose a serious threat to native plant communities and wildlife, too, necessitating active management to contain infestations,” Lininger added.
“Weeds are a major problem, and there are many ways to control them besides using toxic chemicals,” he said. “Before using chemicals, the Bureau needs to show that it’s the best method and that it’s safe.”