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Friday — April 16, 2004


Spray doesn’t pay

Local residents scoff at herbicide use

"These are big chemicals, and I think a big portion of this valley doesn’t know that. These chemicals poison our ground. They poison our air. They poison our water. There are alternatives."

— COURTNEY COLE, Coaltion for a Healthy Environment

Express Staff Writer

In waging a war against invading noxious weeds, more than 100 Wood River Valley residents said this week they would prefer to discontinue use of herbicides, a practice they said constitutes treating one problem by introducing yet another.

Among the alternatives to spraying pesticides to kill invading noxious weeds is a program designed to raise beetles that eat knapweed. Last summer, a group of local students helped raise, introduce and monitor the beetles as they munched through Idaho’s silent invaders. Express file photo

In the span of three days, between Tuesday and Thursday this week, the Blaine County Recreation District decided to postpone spraying herbicides along 22 miles of the Wood River Trails system. The decision was precipitated and galvanized by overwhelming support from citizens, many who have volunteered to adopt half-mile sections of the trail to employ manual weed control methods.

The recreation district met Tuesday afternoon with a group of approximately 10 citizens who expressed concern about the organization’s plans to spray weeds Thursday, April 15, with a chemical called Veteran 720.

Veteran contains two active ingredients and a number of inert ingredients that studies indicate can harm those who come in contact with the solution. The active ingredients are 2,4-D and dicamba, a chemical suspected to increase the rate of cancer in farmers who use it by 50 percent.

The other active ingredient in Veteran, 2,4-D, is the most widely used herbicide in the world. Symptoms of 2,4-D poisoning include sleepiness, vomiting, convulsions, kidney and liver injury and muscle twitching, according to the Journal of Pesticide Reform. It also causes nervous system problems and genetic damage to laboratory animals.

The herbicide used by the recreation district in previous years, Curtail, contains 2,4-D and clopyralid, a chemical the Washington State Department of Agriculture banned from use on lawns and most turf.

According to the Journal of Pesticide Reform, Clopyralid causes "substantial" reproductive problems and can cause a loss of eyesight.

All three chemicals can remain in the soil or water for months after their application, according to the Journal of Pesticide Reform. All three are also commonly used throughout the Wood River Valley to treat lawns and gardens.

"These are big chemicals, and I think a big portion of this valley doesn’t know that," said Courtney Cole, a member of the Coalition for a Healthy Environment and the woman who spearheaded the effort to avoid spraying along the bike path. "These chemicals poison our ground. They poison our air. They poison our water. There are alternatives."

On Wednesday morning, KECH Radio announced that volunteers were needed to avoid spraying, and 148 people telephoned the recreation district by the end of the day.

Recreation district Executive Director Mary Austin Crofts estimated it will take 88 volunteers to control weeds along the 22-mile trail, which connects Hulen Meadows with Bellevue.

"We were so excited with the response yesterday that we will postpone spraying and try to organize a weed control plan using volunteers," Crofts said.

Tentative plans call for the recreation district to work with eight team leaders who will each contact and organize 10 volunteers who will care for designated sections of the trail throughout the summer season.

Crofts pointed out that the recreation district is required by both state and county law to remove noxious weeds from the trail right of way, which extends 10 feet on either side of the paved pathway.

"This means that we will have no alternative but to spray unless we have enough volunteers to commit to the entire program and the entire growing season," she said.

The district has been spraying herbicides to kill weeds for 20 years, Crofts said. This is the first time citizens have voiced opposition to the spraying program.

"We have always included our telephone number in newspaper ads and signs along the trail, asking people to call if they have concerns," she said. "This is the first year that we have had calls about spraying, and we’re very pleased that the community is willing to help with an alternative."

However, there is concern that both spraying and the volunteer effort are only treating the symptom of a larger problem. The sheep that trail through the Wood River Valley every spring and fall are proven to be efficient at spreading weeds.

"We’ve got to stop the 20,000 sheep," said Bill McDorman, owner of Hailey-based High Altitude Gardens. "It’s insane for us to battle all these things and not battle the actual cause. Why can’t we truck them around?"

A recent draft environmental impact statement that was issued by the Sawtooth National Forest on sheep grazing allotments north of Ketchum "totally ignored this issue," McDorman said. He issued a call to arms for those who are interested in this issue. He said they should comment on the forest service document and seek alternatives to trailing the sheep through the heart of the valley every spring and fall.

"Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s make the people who cause the damage pay for the damage," he said.

For the time being, Crofts said the recreation district is going to monitor the situation as the summer progresses and has not ruled out spraying for weeds if the volunteer effort goes south.

"We’re going to be watching very closely," Crofts said.

Although the recreation district posted signs along the trail and printed notices in local newspapers about its Thursday spraying plans, McDorman said he hopes more steps will be taken if spraying continues. Active chemical ingredients should be listed and explained. The bike path should be closed.

"If it were up to me, I would close the whole trail for a period of time," he said. "Otherwise, you’re making a decision you’re not taking responsibility for. To me, it’s that serious."


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