Perturbed by pesticides

Boulder County is putting volunteers at risk with herbicide use

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Visitors hike the Walker Ranch Loop Trail. Courtesy: Boulder County

Relocate Weed Warriors from Walker Ranch

By Christel Markevich

Boulder County Parks and Open Space (BCPOS) recently asked for volunteers to pull weeds along the Walker Ranch Loop trail through its Weed Warriors program. To ensure the program’s success and the health of the community, Weed Warriors needs to be relocated.

This project began as a discussion between Commissioner Marta Loachamin and myself to recruit volunteers to restore a natural land area as an alternative to herbicide use. When BCPOS staff got involved, they shifted the project toan area that had been treated repeatedly with herbicides, including Indaziflam in October 2022

Idaziflam (listed on the county site by its brand name, Rejuvra) is an herbicide that is promoted for its persistence in soil. BCPOS plans to spray Walker Ranch with Indaziflam via drones in 2024.

I communicated to the staff two significant problems with their approach.

First, it is not an experiment with alternatives to the use of herbicides. It is now well-established that repeated herbicide applications are especially damaging to soil health and microbe-plant associations. This project is set up to fail and will just waste the time of the volunteers.

Second, sending volunteers to work on a site that has been heavily sprayed over the past years does not align with their values and health concerns. Many residents have already expressed their opposition to the use of herbicides on BCPOS natural lands based on such concerns.

BCPOS staff rejected my attempts to shift the project back to its original purpose of actually focusing on alternatives to herbicide use at another location. Therefore, I am no longer involved with this project.

Idaziflam is a neurotoxin and a hormone disruptor to mammals. It is toxic to fish, aquatic invertebrates and plants. It has been shown to accumulate in the tissues of certain organisms.

Boulder County residents have submitted many comments against the use of pesticides on BCPOS natural lands — you can add your comments as well. More than three thousand residents petitioned against the use of both Indaziflam and Glyphosate on natural lands. Community Survey results previously organized by BCPOS show that over 80% of more than 1,000 respondents demand no use of herbicides. 

The current weed management team has been trained to kill weeds but not to implement ecologically sound ecosystem restoration. The BCPOS staff needs some guidance from local ecosystem restoration experts to ensure the success of projects experimenting with pesticide alternatives.

We do not want a repeat of failures such as BCPOS’s Carbon Sequestration Project team’s experiment using compost on agricultural fields. That experiment failed for an obvious reason that any of our regenerative farmers could have easily identified if consulted: The Carbon Sequestration Project team was spraying Roundup on the compost! For details, see the team’s presentation at the January 2020 POSAC meeting.

The Boulder County Commissioners will consider the draft Integrated Weed Management Plan during the April 16th public hearing. This will be the only opportunity for the public to comment directly to the Commissioners on this plan before they make their final decision. You can register here to attend virtually or in person at the Boulder County Courthouse, 3rd Floor, 1325 Pearl St. in Boulder. 

We need a moratorium on all pesticide use until BCPOS establishes a more science-based, inclusive public process that fully incorporates perspectives from ecologists and other scientists, local nonprofits, community leaders and staff.

Visit pesticidesbouldercounty.org to stay informed and to find additional guidance to take actions. 

Christel Markevich is a land restoration advocate and practitioner. She lives in Nederland. 

Listen to the people

By Kathleen Sands

Will Boulder County commissioners vote with the public in this decades-long debate over the use of pesticides on our open spaces or with their staff who prefer to use herbicides as their main tool for managing weeds with aerial spraying? 

Boulder County Commissioners will hear from the public one last time next Tuesday afternoon, April 16, before deciding whether to adopt Boulder County Parks & Open Spaces (BCPOS) herbicide-heavy plan — with drone spraying — or the CU professors’ chemical-free weed plan utilizing mowing, targeted goat grazing, prescribed burns and volunteer/staff hand pulling. 

The public hearing starts at 3 p.m. Lyons Climate Action Group will be holding a rally will begin outside the Pearl Street courthouse beginning at 2 p.m. All are welcome and encouraged to join and be heard on this public health and climate issue. 

The public has showed up to Boulder County hearings in great numbers to show their distain for herbicide use on our open spaces. BCPOS did a recent survey: Results showed that 80% of the public do not want herbicides used on open spaces, yet they continue to put forth a plan that relies heavily on herbicide use.

Many environmental groups, organic farmers, herbalists and others from the public have testified in monthly public comment sessions that they do not want toxic petrol chemicals used for weed management on our open spaces. BCPOS has largely ignored the public over the past 1.5 years of input from environmental engineers, soil experts, chemists, organic farmers, climate scientists and land management expert professors.

Two professors and a permaculturist wrote a pesticide-free Weed Plan and Weed Guide and presented it to the county showing proven natural methods for managing weeds including mowing, volunteer/staff hand pulling, RX burns and targeted goat grazing. Most of these methods (with the exception of goat grazing) are already in the county’s current weed plan, so the public is asking for them to remove just one tool from the myriad of methods available.

The county has pledged to reduce their use of herbicides by 50% in six years and stop using glyphosate, but officials say they would not take herbicides out of the plan despite the public’s clear opposition to their use.

Lyons Climate Action and other members of the public have reminded BCPOS management that they are public servants and that the state requires input from the people — not just to show they’ve done it, but to actually listen and act in the interest of the public. We have recommended to the commissioners to put in place an oversight committee that will ensure that the public is heard, decisions are solidly based in science, conflicts of interest are avoided, and that laws and regulations are followed by complying with their own department plans.

The public will be asking the commissioners on Tuesday to adopt the chemical-free weed plan. Lyons Climate Action believes we need leaders in our community who care about the environment and will make decisions for the pubic interest and values.

Kathleen Sands is an organizer with the Lyons Climate Action Group. She resides in Lyons.

These opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly. This article has been updated to include comments from Kathleen Sands.

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