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National Forests, California--

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is trying to study the effect of pesticides on basket weavers, but the department is getting only limited cooperation. The weavers object to a pair of words and the core concept used by the regulators: "risk assessment."

The DPR has accused the California Indian Basket Weavers Association, known as CIBA, of backing away from a study that it requested. Not so, says CIBA.

Steve Nicola, a spokesperson for CIBA, said the association has been opposed to the use of pesticides since it began in 1992. Pesticide use has concerned basket weavers, said Nicola, "because they go out on the lands and gather plant materials for their basket making, and they also gather plants for other purposes associated with their cultural traditions--for medicines and foods and so on."

What CIBA objects to is not a study, he said, but the application of the idea of risk assessment.

The association has supplied the names of plants and where they are located in the forest, but it has refused to tell how the plants are handled. That puts a damper on the DPR study. In order to calculate pesticide risk, DPR must determine the exposure. And without knowing how plants are handled, DPR can't do that.

Said Nicola, "We believe, and Native people believe, that no level of exposure is acceptable, period."

The killing of native plants that are part of a cultural tradition is another matter of concern to CIBA. "If they are killed and they are plants important for food or basketry, then those plants aren't available for the basket weavers to use or the people to gather."

For Native Californians it is also a matter of "environmental justice." Tribes have relied for hundreds of years on some of these plants. Killing or contaminating the plants threatens the "cultural stability" of the tribes, according to Nicola.

Originally, CIBA asked the National Forest Service to study the effect of pesticides on basket weavers and food gathers. The Forest Service awarded a grant to DPR, whose methods are oriented around risk assessment. CIBA only found out about the contract after it was awarded.

"In our view," said Nicola, "they did not act in good faith." CIBA, he said, should have been involved in the design and planning of the study.

Like many environmental groups, CIBA is taking scientific methodology to task; it believes that many variables are being ignored when pesticides are evaluated for safety by the government.



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