Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard
SALEM - How much information is too much information when it comes to tracking pesticides used by farmers and foresters?
That question divides pesticide users and scientific researchers. And it lies at the heart of the Legislature's standoff on whether to revive Oregon's long-dormant Pesticide Use Reporting System.
The system, created by the 1999 Legislature, was intended to provide researchers, waterway managers and government agencies with a map of the state detailing pesticide use on farms, forests, parks, school campuses and elsewhere.
Without the reporting, very little information is available, as most pesticide users simply buy and apply the chemicals without reporting the use to any government agency.
The reporting data was thought to be invaluable for understanding whether and how these chemicals were affecting the safety of drinking water and the health of salmon, among other things.
At the same time, a reporting system was seen as a way for farmers, foresters and other pesticide users to prove with scientific evidence their contention that they were using herbicides and other chemicals in ways that did not threaten public health or the environment.
But failure by the state to provide funding, and an abundance of political discord among the interest groups that once helped create the system, have prevented that data from ever being collected.
Researchers and scientists want data on where pesticides are applied, square mile by square mile, to better understand the effect of chemicals on human health and the environment. That's what the reporting system calls for.
But those who apply pesticides to crops and private forests want to report their use in a way that reveals not a specific location, but only which watershed those chemicals might ultimately enter.
For the 200,000 people in Eugene who get their drinking water from the McKenzie River - and for those farmers and private forest managers who operate in the McKenzie's watershed - it's the difference between knowing which pesticides are used in the 1,360-square-mile watershed as a whole, and knowing which chemicals are used in each square mile of the watershed.
This watersheds-vs.-square-miles disagreement is integral to the latest fight over the reporting system: the Legislature's impending decision on whether to allocate $750,000 to operate the system in 2005-07.
Farmers, foresters, pesticide makers and their lobbyists are pressuring lawmakers to withhold the money unless the state changes the rules to watershed-based reporting.
They see it as burdensome - and even dangerous - for rural pesticide users to report pesticide usage on a per-square-mile basis.
Harrisburg grass-seed farmer Eric Bowers said he's concerned that growers' data on their use of farm chemicals could make them targets of radical environmental activists who would use that data to determine which farms to target with damage or violence.
"I hope it never happens, but eco-terrorism is something I'd be concerned about," he said.
Those who have argued against the reporting-by-watershed approach are dubious about such threats.
Laura Weiss, program director with the nonprofit Oregon Environmental Council, said California has for years collected data that allows the public to connect pesticide use to specific farms and tracts of forest land, and there has been no reported "eco-terrorism" as a result. …