Dozens testify against aerial pesticide spraying

Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Dozens of people from across Alaska spoke out this week against the use of aerial pesticides for forestry management.

The testimony was taken Tuesday night at a hearing called by Democrat legislators after the Department of Environmental Conservation refused to hold hearings on proposed pesticide regulations. The meeting was sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, and teleconferenced to legislative information offices around the state.

The state requires permits for aerial pesticide use and for pesticide use over water or on state land. The proposed rules put in writing existing permitting procedures and requirements, said Kristin Ryan, director of DEC's environmental health division.

Ryan said aerial spraying has occurred only three times in Alaska: twice for a potato blight in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and once in Windy Bay to kill off alder trees and make way for money trees,'' the Juneau Empire reported.

Ryan said the only new practice in the draft regulations is a required 35-foot pesticide free'' zone around water bodies. The buffer zone within which pesticide spraying is not allowed would be greater than 35 feet. It would be determined in such a way that the pesticide would not drift or leach into land 35 feet around the water, Ryan said.

Bob Loescher, former chief executive of Sealaska Corp., said many people in the Tongass National Forest depend on subsistence foods that could be affected by aerial pesticide spraying. He said that DEC's actions violate an agreement reached by formulators of the Forest Practices Act of 1990.

We had worked a couple years to develop those draft laws and regulations, and in the course of that we had an agreement among all interest groups that this issue of pesticides and herbicides would be deferred and developed over time by (the Department of Natural Resources) and DEC,'' Loescher said.

Clay Frick, a Port Alexander fisherman, said the use of pesticides would jeopardize efforts to boost the salmon industry.

The state is spending millions of dollars to promote our salmon as coming from a pure, clean environment as a key element in the marketing endeavor,'' he said.

But most testimony at the hearing centered on opposition to any aerial spraying, rather than on the specifics of the draft regulations, and outrage at DEC's refusal to hold any public hearings. Many spoke under the assumption that aerial spraying is illegal and that the regulations would change that.

Many who testified brought up comments by Ryan, who had justified the lack of a public hearing by saying opinions on the topic were too wide-ranging and the issue was too controversial.

Ryan also said the department doesn't want to ban aerial spraying because it's not used frequently.

It's an important tool in our public health toolbox. If we ever get a disease up here like West Nile Virus, we need to have the capacity to spray for it,'' she said.

But Ellis said it's possible one of the nine lawmakers eight Democrats and one Republican in attendance at the hearing might propose a bill to ban spraying.

He called DEC's refusal to hold a hearing arrogant.''

The public comment period ends at 5 p.m. Thursday.

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