Thursday, July 16, 2009
UPDATED: BLM Withdraws New Mexico Herbicide Plan
By Susan Montoya Bryan
The federal Bureau of Land Management on Thursday withdrew an environmental assessment for the treatment of noxious weeds on public lands in southeastern New Mexico.
The agency's announcement comes just weeks after environmental groups asked a U.S. Interior Department appeals board to halt herbicide work in the bureau's Roswell district until the agency does a more thorough review of its plan.
The groups had said the plan failed to name the herbicides that would be used across the nearly 1.5 million acre district and did not specify where they would be applied.
Roswell assistant field manager Brad Pendley said the BLM's aim is not to treat the entire district with herbicides. The agency typically treats between 200 and 1,000 acres each year.
"We decided that the best way to clarify the intent and scope of our (environmental assessment) would be to withdraw and revise the current document," Pendley said, adding that a new analysis should be ready for public review in about two weeks.
The BLM in May issued a final decision on the proposal to use herbicides to knock back weeds and other invasive plants that have taken over large areas of grassland in southeastern New Mexico. The agency said the proposal wouldn't have any adverse effects and would bolster native vegetation and improve habitat for wildlife.
The BLM said the herbicides would be sprayed from the ground, using vehicles and backpack sprayers, and buffers would be created around sensitive areas.
The environmental groups, however, contend the agency's plan did not fully disclose the impacts on the environment, human health and threatened and endangered species in the area, including a rare sunflower, a fish and a group of snails.
Nicole Rosmarino, a biologist with the Western environmental group WildEarth Guardians, said Thursday she was pleased with the BLM's decision to withdraw what she called a "blank check to spray harmful chemicals wherever and whenever it saw fit."
"We hope the agency comes back to the public with a plan that looks at the root causes of noxious weeds spreading — namely, the disturbances from oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, and off-road vehicles," she said.
Pendley said it's essential that the agency take proactive steps in treating noxious weeds before they spread and that herbicides are one of the most effective tools.
Past herbicide treatments have allowed land managers to keep small the areas infested by weeds and other invasive plants," he said.
"Many species are toxic to wildlife and livestock, and several species are capable of transforming a healthy grassland into a biologically unproductive monoculture that impacts wildlife, livestock and recreation," Pendley said.
The BLM plans to target several weeds, including African rue — a small flowering plant found throughout the Southwest that's toxic to wildlife and drought tolerant. The plant can push out native plants that quail and other birds depend on, like saltbrush.
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