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Federal agency cancels insecticide spray plans in Rio Chama watershed

Overlook of the Rio Chama - Between Abiquiu & Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.
Larry Lamsa
Overlook of the Rio Chama - Between Abiquiu & Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.

The Bureau of Land Management has announced it’s canceling its controversial plan to spray the Rio Chama Watershed with 670 gallons of a toxic insecticide –– for now.

In a press release sent to KUNM Thursday, BLM Taos Field Manager Pamela Mathis said: “Additional environmental analysis and outreach for this project is necessary, and we are dedicated to doing so in an open and transparent manner.”

This decision follows an outcry from stakeholders in the area and conservationists who worry the neurotoxin “carbaryl” could harm other wildlife and ecosystems –– including crucial pollinators like bees and monarch butterflies.

Halley Strongwater is a resident of northern New Mexico and voiced her concerns on social media.

“We just don't really need to increase any kind of damage to our native insect populations," Strongwater told KUNM. "Especially to favor cattle.”

The spray was requested by private landowners in the area who reported a surge of native grasshoppers. These insects usually compete with livestock for limited forage.

Though, for Aimee Code of the Xerces Society, a watchdog group focused on insect conservation, this decision could also spark a change in how the U.S. Department of Agriculture evaluates the impact of the toxin on the environment.

“Other states are starting to recognize that the evaluation was too simple,” Code said.  “They have stepped back from some of the sprays.” 

USDA is the agency responsible for physically spraying the land. But, BLM has the final say on the matter and could revisit the plan after further scientific review and outreach.

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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