THE DAILY NEWS ONLINE – JACKSON HOGAN
State study furthers debate over Willapa Bay pesticide use
Public hearings scheduled for October
The long, contentious debate over using a controversial pesticide to control pests threatening Willapa Bay’s multimillion dollar oyster industry may be resolved this year.
The state Department of Ecology Tuesday released a draft environmental impact study of using imidacloprid to control the burrowing shrimp that undermine and smother oyster beds.
Supporters and opponents likely will both find ammunition in the report, which draws a mix of conclusions. It says that using imidacloprid would:
Cause immediate, adverse, unavoidable damage to juvenile worms, crustaceans, and shellfish in the tidal mudflats where it is applied and in nearby areas covered by incoming tides.
Have limited impacts across the entirety of Willapa Bay. However, there is significant uncertainty about the cumulative impacts and other unknown impacts, including those to other marine invertebrates.
Pose little direct risk to fish, birds, marine mammals and human health, but it could disrupt the food sources of fish and birds.
The study concludes that further research is needed on the environmental effects of imidacloprid.
Public hearings will be held at noon Oct. 7 in South Bend and 6 p.m. Oct. 10 in Olympia. The public comment period closes Nov. 1, and the agency will decide whether to approve imidacloprid “fairly shortly after that,” according ecology spokeswoman Jessie Payne.
“These public comment opportunities are important because it gives everybody from the growers to interested parties and regular public a chance to look at what we reviewed, and they can present us with information we might have missed in our review process,” Payne said. “It’s a complicated issue, but the more feedback we can get from all groups, the better we’ll be able to make an appropriate decision.”
There’s a lot at stake. Willapa Bay is one of the largest producers of shellfish in the United States, and a 2013 analysis by the Pacific Shellfish Institute estimated that the Pacific County aquaculture industry generated $90 million in total economic output and nearly 1,600 jobs in 2010. The Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association estimates that failure to control burrowing shrimp would reduce oyster production 70 percent to 80 percent.
Willapa Bay, on the other hand, is a critical gathering spot for migratory and resident shorebirds. Nevertheless, chemicals have been used for decades to control burrowing shrimp and kill off spartina, an invasive grass that had threatened to take over the rich intertidal area that is such a rich source of food for many species.
Debate about use of imidacloprid has raged for three years, and state Rep. Jim Walsh said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that Ecology is on the cusp of a decision. But he’s worried about further agency delays, to say nothing of appeals by interest groups.
“I’m glad that this is going forward,” said Walsh, an Aberdeen Republican who represents the Southwest Washington and the Lower Columbia region. “I am not convinced that this (process) is close-to-done, either pro or con. (The draft EIS) is not terribly conclusive, and it’s subject to public meetings, and those are going to be critical. It seems that there’s a lot of question marks left.”
Gov. Jay Inslee in June vetoed a Walsh bill that would have forced Ecology to commit to a schedule for approving or rejecting the imidacloprid permit. Now, even though Ecology seems headed toward an imidacloprid decision, Walsh said agencies need to be held more accountable.
“We have to hold the Department of Ecology and other similar regulatory agencies to clearer, harder timelines,” he said. “My concern that brought me to this issue is that many times, these permit review processes end up being open-ended, non-conclusive exercises. We need to have clarity in timelines for how this goes.”
State Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said he’s pleased that Ecology has a more concrete timeline.
“We’ve been working through this process, and it’s good to see that this is finally up for public comment,” he said.
Oyster growers have battled burrowing shrimp for decades and have been forced to seek alternatives to a pesticide called carbaryl, which is a likely human carcinogen and is banned in many countries. Imidacloprid was introduced as a less-toxic alternative to carbaryl, but a new permit for the pesticide in 2015 was cancelled after a Seattle Times article provoked a massive critical response. The issue has even divided the shellfish industry, with some growers announcing they won’t use imidacloprid due to public outcry.
The oyster growers’ proposal is similar – but not identical – to the one submitted in 2015 and later withdrawn amid controversy. They’re proposing to treat less acreage – 485 acres in Willapa Bay and 15 acres in Grays Harbor – as opposed to 2,000 acres requested previously. They also propose to apply the pesticide with hand or ground equipment as opposed to aerial spraying.
Imidacloprid has been linked to bee colony die-off but is allowed under federal rules to be applied to land crops. Payne added that imidacloprid has been used across the country in land-based farms, but has never been used outside of Washington in a marine setting.
Sep 20, 2017 THE DAILY NEWS ONLINE 770 11th Ave Longview, WA
Picture: Bill Wagner, The Daily News