Rice farmers have waged war on the pest "for as long as we've been growing rice in Louisiana," says Bobby Simoneaux, director of pesticides and environmental programs at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Now, growers are hoping that a potent weapon in their arsenal will be restored to them: the pesticide carbofuran, which was phased out of use in rice fields beginning in 1991.
The Environmental Protection Agency banned the granular form of the pesticide because it is extremely toxic to birds, which mistake the granule of carbofuran for food. One granule packs a sufficient dose to kill a small songbird, says EPA spokesperson Enesta Jones. Secondary poisoning of birds of prey is also a risk, as eagles and hawks have been found dead after eating small mammals contaminated with the pesticide. Bird-watchers and environmentalists were relieved when the carbofuran was taken off the market. "It's a pesticide that we were particularly concerned about for a long time," says Gavin Shire, a spokesman for the American Bird Conservancy.
Despite the pesticide's known dangers, the Department of Agriculture applied in January for an emergency exemption to the ban that would allow farmers to treat up to 300,000 acres of weevil-infested fields with carbofuran. State officials acknowledge the environmental risk but stress that they can distribute carbofuran in a way that will minimize its dangers. They argue that the only other pesticides that target the water weevils also have an unfortunate side effect: they kill crawfish. As those pesticides are sprayed from the planes as a liquid, some of the plume drifts over to neighboring crawfish fields. Carbofuran is not as toxic to crawfish, and its granules would be less likely to be caught by the wind, Simoneaux says.
This combination of factors has brought the state to the EPA's doorstep. "This is an issue that is really unique to Louisiana, because we're the only state that has side-by-side rice and crawfish production," says Steve Linscombe, director of a rice research station run by the LSU Agricultural Center.
The EPA extended the public comment period on the proposed exemption until March 15 to allow environmental groups more time to study the application. The final weeks of the public comment period brought a flurry of letters, both for and against carbofuran. Private farmers and agricultural product businesses 'such as G&H Seed Company in Eunice ' defended the pesticide's use, while the American Bird Conservancy, which leads a network of environmental groups called the National Pesticide Reform Coalition, wrote a letter objecting to the state's exemption request.
Linscombe says the resistance to carbofuran is based on a misunderstanding about the way the pesticide is distributed. "We are dropping this as a granule into a flooded rice field, it sinks down, and it's not available for birds to pick up," he says. Jones, the spokesperson for the EPA, agrees that carbofuran use is safer in the flooded fields of Louisiana than it was on the dry soil of California farms, where birds could peck up the granules. "Most of the incidents [of bird kills] were associated with the corn, rice and grapes uses" of the pesticide, she says.
But environmentalists say that the distribution methods over rice fields are not precise enough to guarantee the safety of Louisiana's birds. "They're talking about thousands of acres, and its aerial distribution which allows for drift in the wind," says Shire. "Some [of the carbofuran] will almost certainly land on the hard ground surrounding the fields, and birds probably will die as a result." Accidental spills are also a concern. In a 1989 case in Colusa, Calif., state investigators found 1,985 dead ducks not in an agricultural field, but instead in an area that was frequently flown over by cropdusters on their way from an airstrip to the rice fields.
Environmentalists might be feeling a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu over this issue. In 2002, the Department of Agriculture asked for the same emergency exemption, which the EPA quickly granted. A coalition of 50 environmental groups, led by Defenders of Wildlife and the American Bird Conservancy, lobbied the agency for a public comment period to allow them to make an argument against carbofuran's return. The EPA agreed to a five-day public comment period and received more than 5,000 comments. In an about-face, the agency revoked the exemption. The situation in Louisiana may not have qualified as an emergency, the EPA wrote in 2002, and therefore the risk of poisoning birds couldn't be justified by the potential benefits of the pesticide. The agency also cited the public outcry in its decision.
This time, the EPA alerted environmental groups to the application for exemption and allowed a slightly longer public comment period.
Environmentalists hope for a repeat of the 2002 ruling. "It's a little troubling to see every year these almost routine applications for emergency exemptions," says Caroline Kennedy, the director of conservation initiatives for Defenders of Wildlife, noting that her group has fought other exemption requests in other parts of the country. "Carbofuran is extremely hazardous and it's supposed to be phased out. That hasn't changed."
Phoenix flooding stuns residents; Gaza truce talks collapse, NFL vets defy age label and more national and international news for Wednesday, August 20, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Visualize Lafayette’s next great thing from 3,000 feet.
A Baton Rouge judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday against enforcing a law that prohibits anyone 70 or older from running for justice of the peace or constable.
Gov. Bobby Jindal believes the last-minute passage of a pension hike for his state police superintendent, Col. Mike Edmonson, was improperly handled, according to the governor's office.
As the courts hash out the attempts to preserve and shelve Common Core in Louisiana, a group of six state lawmakers are planning an Aug. 22 trip to Oklahoma to meet with their counterparts and strategize for the 2015 regular session.
While hopes are high for turnout this fall, a new report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests that Louisiana's midterm face-offs may amount to nothing special in terms of votes cast.
The attorney hired by the Lafayette Parish School Board for a special investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper has submitted his final report, though it may be another week before the findings are made public.
The Tea Party of Louisiana is calling Sen. David Vitter a “turncoat” for his newfound embrace of Common Core educational standards.
An annual report evaluating Gov. Bobby Jindal's privatization of Medicaid lacked important financial information and presented rosy performance reviews not corroborated by data, according to a review released Monday.
Lafayette attorney Michelle Meaux-Breaux has announced her plans to seek the Division E seat for judge in the 15th Judicial District.
A card-carrying member of Lafayette’s “tribe,” Milton “Spider” Guidry died over the weekend. IND music writer Nick Pittman remembers the character and the man.
As tensions continue to escalate in Ferguson, Mo., between law enforcement and residents protesting the shooting death of a local teen by police, we’re reminded of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the in-custody death earlier this year of a New Iberia man.
A group of teachers and parents who support Common Core is asking a state judge to invalidate Gov. Bobby Jindal's actions against the multi-state education standards.
Drew Brees walked up to the line of scrimmage early Sunday, taking a snap during the New Orleans Saints' pre-practice walk-through.
A state judge Friday refused a temporary injunction sought against state education officials in an effort to block implementation of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana.
UL was the consensus pick in a coaches' preseason poll to win the league, and experience has a lot to do with that.
The price tag has nearly doubled for Gov. Bobby Jindal's hiring of an outside consulting firm to recommend new ways to balance the state budget.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is under scrutiny for billing private chartered planes to her Senate office when she used the flights to attend campaign fundraisers.
Many people found not guilty by reason of insanity are being held in Louisiana jails, where they cannot get the treatment they need, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
In a just-released audio recording, City Prosecutor Gary Haynes claims Mike Harson had direct dealings with the alleged mastermind behind the bribery scheme in the DA’s office.
C-P councilmen sponsor a resolution in support of the notion that one should subscribe to Tea Party ideas about civics before being allowed to seek public office.
Russel Honoré, the retired U.S. Army general known for his role in restoring order to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and most recently for his involvement in the Green Army movement to stop environmental abuses of Louisiana, has now weighed in on the police response to protestors in Ferguson, Mo.
More than three dozen restaurants, bars, convenience stores and supermarkets in Lafayette Parish are facing fines in connection with the state office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control’s 2014 “Summer Crackdown.”
The grim news, delivered to the joint legislative budget committee, barely raised eyebrows at the committee hearing, after more than six years of such disappointing financial forecasts.