(Beyond Pesticides, July 6, 2011) After 27 years of fighting invasive weeds without the high-powered help of toxic chemicals, the Eugene district of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wants to add herbicides back into the toolkit. Eugene district BLM officials are proposing to use four herbicides to kill weeds along roadsides and in rights-of-way.
The BLM stopped using herbicides in Oregon in 1984 after a court injunction in response to a lawsuit filed by the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. The coalition had argued that the agency had not followed federal procedures in approving the use of herbicides on public lands, and a judge agreed. The BLM eventually wrote an environmental impact statement (EIS) on its proposal to use herbicides, but a final management plan wasn’t completed until last year. The BLM said it will only be doing ground application and not spraying herbicides by helicopter or plane.
The management plan permits the agency to use 17 different herbicides to control weeds but only in limited circumstances. Now individual districts, including Eugene, are developing site-specific proposals for using chemicals. Locally, four herbicides are under consideration. Glyphosate, imazapyr, triclopyr, and clopyralid are effective on a range of plants, from woody brush to grasses and broad-leaved perennials.
The BLM wants to use the herbicides on invasives such as Scotch broom, knapweed and false brome. However, the use of these toxic chemicals on rights- of-ways, and roadsides that are interspersed with private lands, the federal property is close to towns, farms and homes could harm those who live nearby and who earn their living from organic farming. Those who use BLM lands for hunting or mushroom gathering also could be at risk.
Each year, millions of miles of roads, utility lines, railroad corridors and other types of rights-of-way are treated with herbicides to control the growth of unwanted plants. Unfortunately, drift from the application of these herbicides can negatively affect organic farmers and chemically sensitive residents. Rights-of-way include roads, utility lines, and railroad corridors, although different states have varying policies for maintaining rights-of-way. Recently, a utility company in North Carolina nearly destroyed one of the nation’s oldest and most famous vines, “Mother Vine,” when it accidentally sprayed a part of the plant while spraying the right-of-way.
Last year the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Alaska Center for the Environment, Alaska Survival, Cook InletKeeper and the Native Village of Eklutna was granted a temporary temporary restraining order and prelminary injunction for a planned program to treat rail lines with the herbicide glyphosate. The Rail Company argued that its vegetation problem has gotten too out of hand for “so-called ”˜alternative methods,” including flame throwers, a steam machine and inmate labor. Environmental groups, including Beyond Pesticides, which submitted comments against the use of glyphosate on the railroad, are opposed to the strategy because they say regulators have not considered the chemicals’ effects on drinking water and streams where salmon live. Glyphosate is a neurotoxicant, irritant, and can cause liver, kidney and reproductive damage. It is also linked to non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In recent news, glyphosate has been identified as a common chemical found in acute agricultural worker poisonings, and linked to birth defects and intersex frogs.
Alternatives to Roadside Weed Management
Mechanical methods which include cutting, girdling, mowing and grazing animals provide effective means to eradicate unwanted vegetation along rights”of”way when used in a time effective manner. These methods can be labor intensive, but can be a source of employment to many. Utilizing herbivorous animals such as goats have been proven to be a cost effective and efficient way of controlling vegetation.
Biological methods, such as the use of native vegetation, used in conjunction with mechanical means, create and encourage stable, low”maintenance vegetation that is a more permanent vegetation management strategy. The establishment of desirable plant species that can out”compete undesirable species requires little maintenance and meets the requirements for management. Although native vegetation may take more time to establish itself, native flower and grass species are better adapted to local climate and stress. Native plant species are especially effective in providing increased erosion control, aesthetics, wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Numerous states have established roadside wildflower programs for these reasons.
Other control methods include the use of corn”gluten and steam treatments. Corn gluten is a natural preemergence herbicide and is classified by EPA as a “minimum risk pesticide.” Steam treatments involve 800 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures and low pressure. This technique exposes the plant to high temperatures for a short period of time, disrupting the cell functions. Least toxic chemicals such as acetic acid (vinegar) or citric acid are known and registered herbicides and should not be discounted as effective chemical treatments.
Some states allow residents the right to refuse herbicide use on their property and people can post their property with no spraying signs provided by the utilities. For example, Maine, North Carolina, and Oregon all have no-spray agreements. If you are interested in becoming active in your community to stop spraying on rights-of-way or other public spaces such as parks and schools, please refer to our “Tools for Change” webpage and read The Right Way To Vegetation Management, which contains information about spraying policies along rights-of-way in different states.
Take Action: Tell BLM that safer alternatives are available in lieu of toxic herbicides like glyphosate and clopyralid for rights-of-ways and other roadside areas. To comment: Send mail to ATTN: Vegetation EA, Michael Mascari, Bureau of Land Management, 3106 Pierce Parkway, Suite E, Springfield, OR 97477; by e-mail to OR_Eugene_Mail@blm.gov; by fax to 541-683-6981. Comment deadline is July 16th 2011.
Source: The Register-Guard