On January 20, 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued its latest Biological Opinion (BiOp) in a series of BiOps evaluating potential effects of pesticide use on salmon in the Pacific Northwest. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decides to permit continued registration of a pesticide (during reregistration or registration review), Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7(a)(2) requires EPA to determine, in consultation with the NMFS and/or the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), that continued registration is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species. Under current procedures, EPA scientists make an initial threshold determination whether or not continued registration “might” have such an effect, followed by referral to the FWS or the NMFS for formal consultation in those instances where that threshold is met.
The January 20, 2015, NMFS BiOp concerns the pesticides diflubenzuron, fenbutatin oxide, and propargite, and is one in a series of NMFS BiOps for Pacific salmon. As part of litigation that began in 2001, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered EPA to determine whether it should have consulted with NMFS concerning reregistration of 55 specific pesticides. EPA subsequently initiated a formal consultation with NMFS for 37 of these 55 pesticides.
Like most of the prior BiOps, the latest NMFS BiOp recommends that EPA require the affected pesticide registrants to adopt buffer zones and other mitigation measures. The scientific methodology underlying the NMFS BiOps has been sharply criticized by industry and questioned by EPA. EPA has not yet adopted the measures recommended by NMFS in any of the previous BiOps. The BiOp for the pesticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion was vacated and remanded to NMFS by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on February 21, 2013. That decision was based in part on use of implausible assumptions in the NMFS model and on the decision of NMFS to recommend uniform buffer zones without regard to site-specific factors. Industry has criticized the latest BiOp on similar grounds. Some may also ask why NMFS did not utilize methodology like that recommended in 2013 by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, but NMFS states that consultations with other agencies concerning a process to implement the NAS recommendations are still pending.