County Commission Pondering Roadside Pesticides

In 2003 the Lane County Commission voted to move to a “last resort” program in using herbicides on county roadsides. The plan to put a moratorium on pesticide use was in response to concerns for human health as well as concerns for Willamette River steelhead and Chinook salmon. On Sept. 9, with impetus from Commissioner Jay Bozievich and with the encouragement of pro-pesticide group Oregonians for Food and Shelter, the county’s Integrated Vegetation Management Program “last resort” policy will be up for discussion.

Local organic farmers and others with concerns about the use of chemical sprays fear the county is considering a return to the use of toxics for weed control. Since 2003, Lane County Public Works has limited its use of herbicides (herbicides are a subset of pesticides) and used manual/mechanical means to control weeds and unwanted vegetation along county roads.

In an emailed response to the concerns of former Vegetation Management Advisory Committee chair John Sundquist, Bozievich writes that the discussion is in response to “the request of residents and farmers.” Bozievich has a long-standing policy of not responding directly to EW’s requests for comment.

A letter from Oregonians for Food and Shelter has been circulated among local farmers urging, “Please plan to attend the [County Commission] meeting and give public comment about how the current management plan, without chemicals, is negatively impacting you.” According to its website, OFS board members include representatives from chemical companies Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, as well as chemical sprayers and applicators.

Bozievich writes, “My guess is that if any change is made, we might look at an integrated management plan that would be a ‘least use’ of herbicides policy.” He adds, “I have no desire to go back to maintenance by prophylactic full width right-of-way spraying.”

Lisa Arkin of Beyond Toxics says that OFS is “manufacturing a problem where there is none.” She says the county’s program is “a national leader in alternative best management practices.” According to Arkin, Lane County is not only creating habitat for native pollinators such as bees along its roadways, it is “saving money on not maintaining spray trucks, not buying chemicals, not using gravel along roadsides, not having to do as much grading and ditching and not incurring lawsuits from pesticide exposure injuries as happened in the past.”

Rather than cut the program or return to spraying, Arkin says that “a very small increase in budget, to make up for past cuts, would make Lane County’s roadside program successful in combating invasive weeds and keeping environmental health.”

The County Commission meeting starts at 9 am on Tuesday, Sept. 9, at Harris Hall, 125 E. 8th Ave. Those who wish to make public comment should arrive early to sign up.

Clarifiction: The last resort policy started in 2003. In 2008 the county voted to put a moratorium in place. You can read the county document  at the county’s website.  Click “Lane County roads — herbicide free” at the bottom of the left-hand  sidebar under “hot topics.”

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