Daily News Archive
From January 11, 2002

California Court Orders Stricter Assessment of Herbicide Use

A California court ordered the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) to evaluate the impact of herbicide use on land affected by CDF programs, according to Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CAT). Many non-federal lands including those owned by timber companies are currently affected by CDF's Vegetation Management Plan (VMP), which allows herbicides to be used without assessing negative consequences. The recent court decision, resulting from a case brought by CAT and the Environmental Protection Information Center, struck down this course of action.

CDF implemented the VMP in order to reduce fire potential on non-federal lands. They provide up to 90% of funding for landowners to meet this end. One typical method is the creation of "fuel reduction zones." Trees and brush are cleared from these areas to decrease fuel for fires. Once it is cleared, herbicides are commonly applied to fight off any vegetation growing back. "The damage caused by herbicide use is likely to be very significant and must be evaluated to fully assess the effectiveness of [CDF's] program," says Patty Clary of CAT. CDF argued that the state pesticide registration process covered the regulations necessary for herbicide use. CDF also felt exempt from responsibility since they themselves do not use herbicides, but only the private landowners under the program.

Judge David Garcia said of his decision, "CDF had an obligation to evaluate and disclose the potential for significant environmental effects from the use of herbicides as an integral part in its statewide vegetation management program and as a reasonably foreseeable future activity of applicants for funds under VMP." The VMP also fails to assess other affected areas of the environment including habitat destruction, increased erosion and the spread of noxious weeds.