Feds call off pesticide spraying near New Mexico’s Rio Chama to kill invasive grasshoppers

Jul 1, 2023, 11:21 AM | Updated: 11:54 am

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Federal land managers have called off plans to spray pesticides near the Rio Chama in northern New Mexico as part of an effort to eradicate invasive grasshoppers.

The decision announced Thursday by the Bureau of Land Management followed an outcry by environmentalists and others who worried that dispersing 670 gallons (2,536 liters) of carbaryl — a potent neurotoxin — would also kill bees, monarch butterflies and other insects vital to the area’s ecosystem.

Although the U.S. Agriculture Department conducted an environmental assessment earlier this year, the Bureau of Land Management said additional analysis and outreach was needed.

“Due to the time needed to carry out additional analysis, the project cannot be achieved this season and will no longer take place. We will continue to work on this important issue in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service,” said Pamela Mathis, the BLM’s Taos field manager.

The plan called for spraying the pesticide across 39 square miles (101 square kilometers) in Rio Arriba County. The U.S. Agriculture Department had concluded that grasshoppers had proliferated to the level deemed a severe outbreak and would not only consume grasses essential to grazing cattle but also would pose a threat to the ecosystem.

Recent surveys in the area tallied 35 grasshoppers per square yard, or more than quadruple the eight per yard considered an outbreak and a threat to rangeland ecosystems, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The Xerces Society and other environmental groups argued that the pesticide could inflict widespread collateral damage for the ecosystem. Some critics also noted that the chemical has been found to be carcinogenic to humans.

Aimee Code, Xerces’ pesticide program director, acknowledged that the agencies’ initial action was centered on helping ranchers.

“Now we’ve taken a step back and said ‘let’s figure out what’s the right solution for the ranchers, for the recreationalists, for the tribes and the pueblos, for the many people that use this area and the wildlife that are there.’” Code said.

Federal officials had planned to set up no-spray buffers 500 feet (152 meters) from water bodies and a quarter-mile from riparian areas such as the Chama, Nutrias and Cebolla rivers. But critics were concerned that the pesticide would drift into other locations.

Terry Sloan, director of Albuquerque-based Southwest Native Cultures, said he feared that any contamination of the Rio Chama could flow downstream to the Rio Grande and ultimately farms and tribal lands along the two waterways.

“Mother Earth and her inhabitants win,” Sloan said in a statement. “… More work ahead, with public and tribal consultation, as we figure out a natural and or Indigenous way to address the grasshopper problem.”

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Feds call off pesticide spraying near New Mexico’s Rio Chama to kill invasive grasshoppers