WEST COAST

Protection for the Northwest’s salmon just took a major leap forward. In a landmark ruling, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour banned the use of 38 pesticides near streams that host threatened and endangered runs of salmon and steelhead in Washington, Oregon and California.

The ruling follows a July 2002 decision, in which Judge Coughenour found that the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to protect endangered salmon from harmful pesticides. The judge didn’t give the EPA a deadline to begin protection, however, so environmentalists and commercial fishers sued again, winning temporary restrictions under the January 22 ruling.

According to the ruling, certain pesticides, like diazinon and malathion, can’t be applied within 20 yards of salmon streams, or sprayed aerially within 100 yards. Many of these compounds are used widely, from apple orchards and rice fields to suburban lawns. Lawn and garden stores selling some of the most common pesticides must now post warning signs.

"What’s so important about this decision is that it puts protection on the ground for salmon. So often, the action on endangered species is delayed," says Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case. But pesticide manufacturers and farm groups plan to appeal the ruling, citing the costs of the ban.

To make the protection permanent, the EPA’s next step is to screen the 38 pesticides for their effects on more than two dozen salmon and steelhead species. In high doses, these compounds may kill fish, while in low concentrations, they can interfere with a fish’s ability to find prey, dodge predators and reproduce.