Environmentalists vs. Science

That is an evergreen headline; here is today’s instance. The Environmental Protection Agency has banned the use of the herbicide Enlist Duo in six Minnesota farm counties. Why? The chemicals in Enlist Duo are apparently harmful to the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. Only problem: there are no eastern massasauga rattlesnakes in those counties, and never have been. My colleague Tom Steward reports:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s latest overreach in enforcing the Endangered Species Act in six Minnesota counties “kinda makes you scratch your knot a little bit,” the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council’s David Kee says. The aggressive agency has prohibited soybean growers in some of the most productive regions of the state from using an herbicide that many rely on.

Moreover, the EPA declined to even identify the species that triggered the ban until the publication Agweek started asking questions.

When the EPA announced new restrictions on a herbicide in Minnesota in order to help protect an endangered species, it did not identify the species it is trying to protect.

It turns out, according to snake experts, it may be trying to protect a snake that has not lived in the state for at least 50 years. …

[A]ccording to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the endangered reptile — the eastern massasauga rattlesnake — exists in minute numbers, if that, on the other end of the state from the counties where the EPA banned the chemical (Clay, Marshall, Polk, Redwood, Renville, and Stearns counties).

For the eastern massasauga, “there is no evidence of established breeding populations on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River,” the DNR says.

It can be found on the Wisconsin side of the river, and is native to several other states to the east and south of Minnesota.

Jeffrey Leclere with the Minnesota Herpetological Society said the massasauga “has never been documented in those counties,” and he said they don’t have the habitat the species would need.

The six somewhat scattered counties “are not even close to an area that used to have massagaugas.”

Apparently part of what is going on here is that the notoriously arrogant EPA refuses to listen to state environmental agencies that are closer to the areas in question, and have more expertise about them.

So the bottom line is that the EPA announced a ban without even saying what species it was trying to protect, and when it finally had to divulge that information, it turned out that the species in question has never been found anywhere near the counties to which the ban applied. I would add, as someone who claims little expertise in agriculture but has lived in the Midwest for a long time, that I have never heard of anyone encountering rattlesnakes of any kind in Minnesota corn and soybean fields.

But the EPA marches arrogantly on, and it is farmers who pay the price of the agency’s willful ignorance.

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