Wednesday, August 6, 2014

‘Naaaysayers’ missed the goat point


    In an enlightened community, human health, safety and education are often top priorities, especially when young families and children are involved. Residents and visitors of the Wood River Valley take comfort and pride in being able to enjoy the outdoor beauty and the healthy lifestyle that this slice of Idaho has to offer. Inside our fairytale-like kingdom, there lurks a dark side, and yes we do have a dark side—the overuse and spraying of toxic pesticides and herbicides.  
    Archaic lawn- and tree-care practices occur throughout the valley. All too often, heavy-handed spraying of toxic chemicals around our homes, lawns, golf greens and trees put the entire community’s health at risk. Both long and or frequent short-term exposure to even low levels of pesticides/herbicides are linked to many types of human ailments: cancer (breast and testicular), neurological disorders (Parkinson’s), learning disorders in children (ADHD), asthma, reproductive problems, birth defects and abnormal hormone function. In addition, these chemicals are highly toxic to trout, mayflies, bees, birds, dogs and cats.

The goats were brought here to eat knapweed, not cheatgrass.”

    So why the goats? Goats were brought to our community to tackle an ongoing knapweed problem that has plagued Idaho and many other Western states for decades. As an alternative to spraying toxic chemicals where many children and families recreate, namely the bicycle path, the BCRD and the Pesticide Action Network of Blaine County stepped in with an innovative, nontoxic weed management plan. A three-year pilot project using very cute goats to eat the knapweed along the bicycle path ensued; data was collected monitoring the goat’s effectiveness in managing this noxious weed. The goats were an ideal way to create a local buzz of public awareness that something should and could be done to tackle our weed and pest problems on both private and public lands without the use of these highly toxic chemicals. Now in year four, this successful goat project is also being used by many private landholders.
    There will always be “naaaysayers” to goats and resistance to alternative pest-management plans but let’s shed some light on current issues raised in recent letters to the editor: “Goats have disturbed the topsoil along the bicycle path, causing dormant cheatgrass seeds to sprout and the goats are not eating the cheatgrass.” Valid points, but blaming the goats as the sole topsoil disturbers were not scientifically studied and are just unsubstantiated hearsay. Many other animals, sheep, deer, elk, pedestrians, children and dogs also frequent these areas, causing top soil disturbances.
    Lastly, the goats were brought here to eat knapweed, not cheatgrass. The invasive species cheatgrass has been in the Wood River Valley for decades—it was introduced as contaminated grain seed from Europe in the late 1800s, and yes, as pointed out, some hand pulling of weeds and planting of native grasses along the bike path would be beneficial.  
    Frequent visits to hospitals, seeking unattainable cures for debilitating diseases that we bring upon ourselves, is not exactly what one would call paradise. Insist that landscape companies offer our community a “Newly Revised Menu” that first takes public health and safety into account while eliminating the hazardous practice of indiscriminate pesticide spraying. Before you sign next year’s contract, insist that you are offered safer landscape options that include micro tree injections, pheromone tree patches, systemic tree treatments, bio control, mechanical weed-control methods and the use of goats—if not, choose a different landscape company that really does care about the health and safety of our children and our community.                                                          

    Brian Ross lives in Ketchum.

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