Spot use of herbicide prompts protest in Jefferson County

PORT TOWNSEND — A group that advocates mowing roadside weeds over spraying herbicides is calling for an ordinance that bans weed spraying along Jefferson County roads.

The three county commissioners heard from the no-spray advocacy group, Jefferson County Ecological Roadsides, last Monday and were presented with a petition with 1,340 signatures supporting a no-spray ordinance.

This Monday, commissioners have scheduled a 1:30 p.m. meeting with representatives of the Jefferson County Noxious Weed Control Program: board Chairwoman Jill Silver and Director Eve Dixon.

The meeting will be in commissioners’ chambers on the ground floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St., Port Townsend.

The issue is the county’s resumption of “spot spraying” of small roadside amounts of the herbicide glyphosate — the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicides — after more than 30 years of not spraying county roadsides.

“I hope to clarify concerns that persons have about the use of glyphosate,” said county commissioners chairman John Austin.

“I think there’s some concern that the limited spot use of an herbicide will lead to a general increase of herbicides on county roads, and that is not our intent,” he said.

“Our intent is to be very discerning and cautious in its use.”

Forest Shomer, a Port Townsend member of Jefferson County Ecological Roadsides, helped form the county’s noxious-weed board as its first chairman in 1998.

Since 1979, Shomer said, the county had practiced a no-spray policy that ended with some limited spraying about two years ago.

Shomer said Jefferson County Ecological Roadsides members made their position clear to the commissioners during last Monday’s two-hour meeting and will be well-represented this Monday during the commissioners’ 9 a.m. public comment period and 1:30 p.m. meeting.

The group, Shomer said, advocates a county ordinance banning roadside spraying that would simply state: “No herbicides, pesticide or other chemicals shall be used in road rights of way in Jefferson County.”

The group in five days collected 1,340 petition signatures supporting the no-spray ordinance, Shomer said, and more signatures are being collected at the Jefferson County Ecological Roadsides’ website, www.nosprayjeffco.com, as well as its Facebook page.

Shomer said there is information online that says glyphosate is harmless, but he distrusts it because it is posted by such chemical companies as Monsanto.

Studies of glyphosate’s effects are inconclusive, according to Shomer, so “the main thing is that it’s suspect.”

He said the chemical “is used all over the world,” and its molecules can be found “in everybody’s body.”

It takes anywhere from two to 48 days to biologically break down in the ecosystem, which means it is unknown what effects it has, he said.

“That means there is going to be time enough to leech into streams and possibly affect fish,” he said.

In collecting the signatures, Shomer said, “there seemed to be a landslide agreement that if glyphosate or other herbicides and pesticides were added to the toxicity level already in our county air, earth and water supplies, it would do more long-term harm than good.”

In general, he said, people fear effects on pets and want to be able to pick berries on roadsides without fear of contamination.

The anti-spray group is calling for ecological stewardship and naturalist training programs that promote “a more plant-sensitive mowing schedule, wildflower planting routines and a program to allow citizens to adopt portions of roadways to steward.”

Dixon said the county’s no-spray policy was “only a verbal understanding, not a written one.”

She added: “We were spraying just on county roads, and we always contact adjacent landowners.”

Prior to 1979, the county was using herbicides fairly frequently as a means of weed control, she said.

Now the weed board wants to target areas such as Larson Lake Road in Eaglemount, where wild chervil, a weed that looks like poison hemlock, is highly invasive.

“It spread so rapidly that we want to jump on it and get it controlled,” Dixon said.

“It doesn’t just grow on the side of the road where mowers reach. It goes well down into ditches.”

She said a large number of federal agencies — including the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Forest Service — favor the use of glyphosate in “careful, legal, responsible use” in small amounts.

The weed board has used only 2 gallons of the herbicide in concentrate in 2010 and a half-gallon in 2011.

“In areas that we did spray, we saw declines of population,” she said.

The county needs more weed-pulling volunteers to avoid the use of herbicide, she said.

Shomer, however, calls it “unrealistic to expect volunteers to pull and dig deep-rooted weeds.”

He said digging weeds disturbs soil, stirring up other weed seeds lying dormant that then sprout.

“The idea is if we just keep digging it, we can beat this weed, but I say: not in this lifetime,” Shomer said.

Volunteers willing to pull weeds can phone Dixon at 360-379-5610, ext. 205.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2390 or at [email protected]

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