The Many New Fans of the Smith River Estuary

We’ve been overwhelmed by the concern and support shown for the Smith River estuary, coming from all parts of the West. Combined with a great turnout (more than 100 people) for our presentation at HSU April 2, I’d say we have a constituency for change. Thanks to all.

Soon we will link to a professional film of the presentation being created by Mahalo Video (

Meanwhile, many people have asked what they can do. Pressure on agencies charged with enforcing laws to protect the Smith River estuary, and the people of the town of Smith River, is a good start. Here is a screen shot from the presentation. For some of these sources you may have to dig for additional info or scamper up the chain of command. Let us know what you find out: And thanks.

More soon.


See the Smith River, and Easter Lily Pesticide Issues, at HSU April 2

Hope you can make it! 6:30 April 2, Kate Buchanan Room, Humboldt State University.


California Pesticide Agency Gives Phony Award to Easter Lily Farmers for “Reducing” Pesticide Use When the Agency’s Own Numbers Show a Dramatic Increase In Pesticides

PRESS RELEASE   March 19, 2015

In one of the most Orwellian displays of deference to industry ever shown by a California state agency, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) will today give Easter lily farmers an “Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovator Award” for allegedly reducing pesticide use “by about 50 percent over the last 20 years.”

Statistics provided on DPR’s own web site not only show no decrease in pesticide use on lily fields in Del Norte County, California, but actually show that lily farmers have increased pesticide use by 65 percent in that time period. The award also flies in the face of recent revelations by another state agency, the California North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, that pesticides are causing severe toxicity in streams that feed the estuary of the Smith River.

The Smith is California’s wildest and cleanest river, and is considered to be one of the most important streams on the West Coast for protecting endangered salmon and steelhead. This is especially true for coho salmon, which are disappearing throughout the state. Coho can spend a year longer than other salmonids in fresh water, often in estuaries.

Ninety-five percent of Easter lily bulbs used in North America are grown on the Smith River Plain, which surrounds the Smith River estuary.

Easter lily growers use approximately 300,000 pounds of pesticides annually, including California’s highest per-acre applications of the fumigants 1,3-dichloropropene and metam sodium. Other highly toxic pesticides used adjacent to the Smith River estuary include chlorothalonil, diuron, disulfoton, phorate, ethoprop, and maneb.

“‘Appalled’ isn’t a strong enough word for how we feel about this ‘award,’” said Greg King, Executive director of Siskiyou Land Conservancy, which has worked since 2004 to reduce pesticide use on Easter lily fields. “Not only has pesticide use jumped dramatically in the twenty-year period cited by DPR, but recent water testing results show that Easter lily pesticides are contaminating California’s most important remaining salmonid habitat. But maybe what’s most amazing is that DPR’s own numbers directly contradict the press release. It’s flabbergasting.”

DPR claims that that the Easter Lily Research Foundation “has adopted a number of practices to reduce their pesticide use by about 50 percent over the last 20 years.” Actually, Easter lily pesticide use increased from about 180,000 pounds in 1992 to 297,000 pounds in 2012 (the latest year that numbers are available), an increase of 65 percent in the exact 20-year period cited by DPR. Moreover, these numbers come from DPR’s own web site.

DPR also contends that Easter lily growers are “developing a strategy … to control nematodes while reducing the use of fumigants.” Yet the dramatic increase of pesticides from 1992 to 2012 came almost entirely in the form of toxic fumigants.

In 2012 lily growers applied 115,930 pounds of 1,3-dichloropropene and 131,913 pounds of metam sodium (the chemical that, in 1991, spilled into the Sacramento River, killing everything for 40 stream miles before diluting in Lake Shasta). These are both highly toxic, carcinogenic fumigants that disrupt reproduction in many species, including salmon but also humans. Both pesticides have seen dramatic increases on Easter lily fields over the past 20 years, and especially during the past 10 years.

DPR also claims that lily growers’ “approaches often involve huge commitments of time, research and a determination to effectively control pests without harming the environment.” But the harm is now well documented. Last year the state Water Board revealed that its testing of surface waters feeding the Smith River estuary, and which run through lily fields, show “acute (and) chronic reproductive toxicity,” meaning that invertebrates that make up the basis of the salmonid food chain cannot survive or reproduce in that water. The Water Board also found 10 different pesticides in the water. It was the fourth time since the mid-1980s that the Water Board had discovered significant pesticide contamination in the ground- and surface waters of the Smith River estuary.

The Smith River contains the most viable coho salmon population in the California. It is considered a “core watershed” for coho and other species, meaning that recovery of the species in other California streams may hinge on making sure that the Smith River remains healthy.

Pesticides are also known to affect human health. For many years residents of the town of Smith River, which is surrounded by Easter lily fields, have complained of birth defects, miscarriages, skin diseases, respiratory and vision problems, and cancer that they attribute to the massive pesticide use virtually in their back yards.

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Update: We called the Department of Pesticide Regulation to complain about these glaring errors and the bogus award, and spoke with DPR Senior Environmental Scientist Mark Robertson, who said he would check it out. Two hours later Robertson phoned and emailed to say that DPR had made an “error” in writing the press release. Here’s Robertson’s email:

Dear Mr. King, Thank you for your inquiry this morning about the 2014 Innovator Award press release. You are correct that there has not been a 50% reduction in pesticides use in Easter lily production over the past 20 years. The error in the press release has been corrected. The error was caused by the inadvertent condensation of two unrelated sentences from the organization description that was used as the basis for the press release. Unfortunately, though I and several other people reviewed the press release, no one here caught the error. Thank you for contacting me so that we could correct the press release in a timely manner.

Record Funding Demonstrates Widespread Support for Protecting Smith River Estuary

Aerial photo from a 2014 report by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board illustrating contamination of streams that feed the Smith River estuary after running through Easter lily fields. Four of these six sample sites turned up "acute (and) chronic reproductive toxicity."

Aerial photo from a 2014 report by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board showing contamination of streams that feed the Smith River estuary after running through Easter lily fields. Four of these six sample sites turned up “acute (and) chronic reproductive toxicity.”

Often a non-profit organization will put out a fundraising plea asking supporters to “match” a certain major contribution. It’s usually wishful thinking. After Siskiyou Land Conservancy received a $25,000 grant from the San Francisco-based Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, late last year, for our work to reduce pesticide use at the Smith River estuary, we wrote in our annual mailer, “With this mailing we are hoping you can help us to match the Goldman grant to ensure that our campaign to protect the Smith River estuary can thrive during the coming year.”

Imagine our shock and delight when our 2014 winter mailer brought in $25,150! Wow. We are honored and amazed.

We don’t normally talk about money. To us, funding is a tool that allows us to do our work. There is almost never enough of it, and we appreciate every dollar. But the unprecedented response from our supporters to protect the Smith River estuary from agricultural toxins deserves notice. We hear you, and we’re on it. 2015 will be the year of pesticide reduction. No, it’s not guaranteed, but there’s a far greater chance of it now than there was one month ago, thanks to you.

If you would like to be on our snail mail or email list please send your information to: Thanks!

“Acute (and) Chronic Reproductive Toxicity” Discovered at Smith River Estuary

State and federal regulators charged with protecting public trust values — such as clean air and water, healthy wildlife, and human health — are apparently uninterested in enforcing laws that should protect the estuary.


It appears that pesticides are poisoning one of the most biologically important estuaries on the West Coast of the United States. In Del Norte County, in the far northwestern reach of California, farmers who grow ninety percent of the U.S. production of Easter lily bulbs apply an annual average of 300,000 pounds of highly toxic pesticides on some 1,000 acres of lily fields that drain directly to the Smith River estuary. The apparent damage of such chemical use is now evident:

  • In 2014 the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board released a devastating report revealing that its scientists had uncovered “acute (and) chronic reproductive toxicity” in three of the four streams that feed the Smith River estuary. This means that invertebrates that make up the basis of the salmonid food chain cannot reproduce in these waters, and that the entire food chain is threatened. Several pesticides used on Easter lily fields can cause reproductive toxicity (see pesticide list below).
  • This testing occurred three years after the Water Board found that a stream feeding the Smith River estuary’s only remaining large slough was contaminated with pesticide residues, namely copper at levels that were 28 times higher than that allowed by state law. Lily growers apply more than 30,000 pounds of copper products annually.
  • Christopher Pincetich, Ph.D., an expert on the effects of pesticides on aquatic organisms, said of the state’s Smith River testing, “The chronic toxicity result is very significant; I saw almost zero reproduction. That test uses Ceriodaphnia dubia, a freshwater invertebrate, the ‘water flea.’ It is very relevant to use as it is the base of the food-web. If Cerio can not reproduce in your watershed, you can technically extrapolate this to say that salmon habitat is likely impaired as their food source (small aquatic invertebrates) is impacted.”
2013 toxicity locations
The four circles represent where the state Water Board found toxicity in streams feeding the Smith River estuary. The glowing circle is at the mouth of Rowdy Creek, where state scientists discovered “acute reproductive toxicity.”

“Impaired” is a technical term under the federal Clean Water Act, meaning that some aspect of the stream is significantly unhealthy. For the Smith River to possibly quality for such a listing is unheard of.

These tiny testing events, with their huge results, have forced public trust agencies, lily growers, and NGOs to address the issue of pesticide contamination at the estuary of California’s wildest river. The Smith River is considered a “seed bank” of wild salmonid stocks that, in terms of species recovery, can recolonize salmon and steelhead streams up and down the California-Oregon coast. The Smith is a last holdout in a state riddled with damaged watersheds. But will pesticides prove to be the Smith’s undoing?

Estuaries provide critical habitat for salmonids — particularly, in California, endangered Coho salmon — and other species. Protecting the Smith River, in the northwestern corner of California, serves all Californians, and Americans. Superlatives describing the Smith River are inexhaustible and in no way overstated. The watershed is unique among coastal rivers in the United States.

  • The Smith River is the wildest and cleanest river in the country outside of Alaska — indeed, it is one of the cleanest rivers in the world.
  • The Smith is the only major undammed river in California, and it anchors the coastal heart of the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion, one of the oldest, largest and wildest temperate ecosystems in North America.
  • The Smith River contains more stream miles federally designated “Wild and Scenic” than any other river in the United States.
  • Smith River salmon and steelhead runs are legendary. Some of the largest Chinook salmon (greater than eighty pounds) have been found on the Smith, and the Smith holds the state record for the largest steelhead ever caught (27 pounds).

Nonetheless, a 2002 study commissioned by the Smith River Project revealed that in 2000 lily growers applied more pounds per acre of metam sodium and 1,3-Dichloropropene (highly toxic and carcinogenic nematicides, both of them deadly to fish) than occurred in any other county in California. In 2010 Siskiyou Land Conservancy discovered that use of both of these chemicals in Smith River had more than doubled. In addition, use of at least four pesticides along the Smith River estuary exceed the federal government’s established level of concern for endangered aquatic organisms. Seven of the most toxic pesticides are known carcinogens, and many are harmful or fatal to aquatic life. This is an extreme application of chemicals well known to be dangerous to wildlife — particularly fish — alongside what is arguably one of the most biologically critical estuarine habitats on the West Coast of the United States.

In 2012 the National Marine Fisheries Service released its long awaited Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Coho Salmon Recovery Plan, which lists pesticide use on lily bulb farms alongside the Smith River estuary as one of the greatest threats to salmon in the watershed. The Recovery Plan cites the work of Siskiyou Land Conservancy and its predecessor, the Smith River Project, owing to our original research on pesticide use along the Smith River and its potential impacts on salmonids. Coho salmon are at risk of extinction in California, and the Smith River is considered one of the few streams in the state that sustains viable Coho populations. Nonetheless, the Coho Recovery Plan notes that the Smith River Coho population is at a “high extinction risk.”[1] (The northernmost population of tidewater goby, listed as “Endangered” under the federal Endangered Species Act, is also found in the Smith River estuary.)

Siskiyou Land Conservancy exists in part to protect farmers and farmlands. Yet we cannot abide by the poisoning of one of the most important estuarine habitats on the West Coast of the United States simply to produce an ornamental crop — a commodity that earns Del Norte County far less revenue than do the commercial and sport fishing industries. Yet even these industries are potentially threatened by pesticides. State and federal regulators have shown little interest in protecting the Smith River estuary from pesticides, despite the now obvious cause-and-effect correlation between massive chemical applications surrounding the estuary and the inability of estuary waters to sustain life. Siskiyou Land Conservancy will continue to pressure regulators to enforce the law, and we will encourage consumers to purchase only “salmon safe,” organically grown Easter lily bulbs.

If you would like to support our grassroots work to protect the Smith River estuary, please send a tax deductible donation to: Siskiyou Land Conservancy, POB 4209 Arcata CA 95518. Thank you.


Bad Actor Pesticides_Smith River_2012

Another round of restoration on South Fork Smith River

SLC recently completed Phase II of a restoration project that improves forest health and reduces the danger of catastrophic fire on the largest privately owned flat along the South Fork Smith River in Del Norte County, CA.

In January, crews from Ashland, Oregon-based Lomakatsi Restoration Forestry thinned 15 acres of conifers on the 148-acre property, an idyllic landscape dotted with meadows, white oak woodlands and mature redwoods, once a site for clear-cutting now protected by a conservation easement managed by SLC.


Crews spread the cut material over the forest floor to build the soil, as decomposition in the Big Flat area is accelerated by up to 200 inches of rain per year.

Funding for the restoration effort was provided in large part by a 50 percent grant from the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service. The landowners, the SLC general fund, and SLC contributors and volunteers provided the other half of the cost-share program.

Volunteer Restoration Work on the South Fork Smith River

Many thanks to the Humboldt State University Natural Resources Club for spending the weekend of Sep. 15-16 on the South Fork Smith River property managed by Siskiyou Land Conservancy. Club members (all 18 of them!) cleared nearly a mile of trail along old skid roads to allow restoration crews access to hillside thinning units, and they practiced peeling Douglas fir poles to construct shelters on the site (so that, this winter, restoration crews can get out of the rain on occasion). The Natural Resources Club provides an incredible service to our communities, and it is much appreciated. Thank you!

Greg King, Executive Director