(Beyond Pesticides, September 20, 20087) A citizens group sued the county and the state of California September 14, 2007 for not allowing adequate public input before using toxic sprays on the Eel River to eradicate invasive weeds. Eureka-based Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) sued the Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner (County) and the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) for their decision to use herbicides to kill purple loosestrife plants for as many as 10 years without first consulting with the public. The suit, filed in Humboldt County Superior Court, also faults the agencies for failing to consider safer and more effective methods such as biological weed control programs, already used successfully throughout the country.“The decision to spray was made behind closed doors with the many people who care deeply about the Eel River locked out,” said Patty Clary, speaking for CATs. “State law requires that the public be involved in important environmental decisions and that alternatives be seriously considered – these requirements were not met.”
The agencies’ decision to spray the herbicide imazapyr from boats on 200 riverbank sites along 25 miles of the Eel was first sprung on the public on July 10 at an invitation-only meeting with representatives of environmental groups in Eureka.
A second meeting at a rural state park campground in southern Humboldt was announced in the county newspaper only the day before. At both meetings, the public was informed of the decision and asked to support it, but was not given the opportunity to provide information and participate in the decision-making process.
After years of study and experiments, the two agencies filed notices that they were exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act on August 13 and began spraying the very next day. The CATs suit argues that the agencies weren’t exempt from the state law.
Termed the Purple Loosestrife Eradication Project, the eradication plan calls for the use of imazapyr annually for up to 10 years – even though native and/or endangered plant species such as Beach layia (Layia carnosa) could be affected by drift or runoff from spraying. Herbicide spraying has been shown to accelerate the spread of purple loosestrife when used in natural areas.
Imazapyr (trade name Habitat) was only approved for aquatic applications in California a year ago. Imazapyr is a non-selective herbicide and therefore likely to kill many untargeted plant species, which would further impact the ecology of the region. In humans, imazapyr is an irritant and causes rashes, swelling and redness of the skin and eyes. It also breakdowns slowly and is very persistent in soil and water. The U.S. Geological Survey says little is known about how the chemical moves through surface or ground water.
Purple loosestrife is an invasive aquatic plant that can crowd out native vegetation in marshes, wetlands and river communities. It was first discovered in Humboldt County in 1997, and was successfully eradicated using non-toxic measures. Over the past six years, however, a larger population of purple loosestrife has developed in Southern Humboldt County. “CATs supports the alternatives of using biological controls, such as two kinds of leaf eating beetles that are adapted to just consuming loosestrife,” Ms. Clary said.