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EPA reconsiders pothole buffers

FARGO, N.D. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to reconsider a recent directive that might have required large buffer areas around prairie potholes when farmers used common pyrethroid insecticides.

FARGO, N.D. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to reconsider a recent directive that might have required large buffer areas around prairie potholes when farmers used common pyrethroid insecticides.

Jim Gray, pesticide, feed and fertilizer team leader for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture in Bismarck, earlier this month asked the EPA to reconsider a directive that would have gone into effect Sept. 2.

The EPA had identified "significant risks" to "certain aquatic organisms" for two chemicals within the pyrethroid class (permethrin and cypermethrin) and had issued a directive involving phyrethroids for agricultural uses. In February, the EPA sent out letters to chemical manufacturers and registrants, informing of new required label language, which established or increased buffer zones for the chemicals.

Gray says the new directive came after a registration review under the Federal Insecticide and Rodenticide Act. FIFRA requires registration reviews of old, existing registrations.

What it would do

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The directive, which now is being reconsidered at the urging of Gray and others, will affect buffers for chemicals with such familiar brand names as Capture, Mustang Max, Warrior and Asana. North Dakota alone used these chemicals on nearly a half-million acres in 2004, according to the most recent North Dakota State University pesticide use survey.

At the minimum, the new EPA directive would have required at least 25 feet between any ground spraying of the chemicals and any wetland and would include a 10-foot-wide buffer strip.

Further, it would have required a 150-foot buffer distance for non-ultra-low volume aerial applications and 450 feet for ultra-low-volume aerial applications. Both of these also would include the 10-foot vegetative buffer strip.

In meetings with EPA in April, Gray had questioned whether "aquatic habitat" would denote waters that support fish or would it also regulate wetlands that pertain to water-loving birds, fish and plants. These often are called "potholes" or "seasonal wetlands."

"Initially, EPA's answer was 'yes,'" Gray says of the wider definition. "My concern was that if we put those buffers around every pothole in North Dakota, we'd be taking a significant amount of land out of production. It would be a lot."

Gray then showed EPA officials photos of prairie potholes and explained that some are seasonal and that their size varies from year to year and within years, depending on weather.

"I showed them an aerial photo of Stutsman County" in North Dakota, he says. "I explained that there are crops grown between these potholes and that sometimes it's impossible to get at those spots with ground equipment. A lot of times applications are made by air."

Clarification expected

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