SF’s Natural Areas Program Uses Even More Pesticides

The 2012 final data are in, and it’s official: In 2012, the Natural Areas Program (NAP) used more pesticides than in any year from 2008 (the first year for which we have data provided by the City). This is true by any measure, as the graphs below indicate. [Note: Graph edited to indicate units]

[Edited to Add: NAP also used more Tier I pesticide – the most toxic – than the rest of SF RPD areas together. HERE]

pesticide use number n vol 2008 to 2012

Depending on the measure you choose, usage has increased anywhere from 12% to 40% from 2011. It’s between 3 and 4 times the usage in 2008.


What pesticides have they been using?

The same as before: Tier II and Tier I pesticides, defined as more hazardous and most hazardous. (For a detailed discussion of these chemicals, click HERE:  Natural Areas Program’s Pesticides: Toxic and Toxic-er.

  • Aquamaster/ Roundup (Glyphosate). (Tier II)  This is one of the world’s most widely used herbicides, but in vitro research has linked these chemicals to changes to human cells, some of which are of the kind that could cause birth-defects. The EPA is studying whether it is an endocrine disruptor. The fact that it’s widely used gives us little comfort; a different widely used herbicide has just been declared unacceptably toxic to bees.
  • Garlon (Triclopyr). (Tier I) To NAP’s credit, they have reduced the use of this extremely toxic herbicide since the peak in 2010. It’s a Tier I pesticide, and associated with numerous diseases in humans, and potential kidney impacts on dogs.
  • Polaris (Imazapyr). This Tier II herbicide is a problem because it spreads (it doesn’t stay where it’s applied) and it persists (it doesn’t break down easily). It’s a relatively new herbicide, and we don’t know quite what it does – though its breakdown product  is neuro-toxic. It’s banned in Europe, and neighbors are fighting against its use in privately owned forests in Northern California.
  • Milestone (Amino-pyralid). This Tier I toxic chemical sticks around even more persistently than imazapyr. It was banned for a time in the UK because if animals eat and excrete it, the excreta are still poisonous – as is the manure made from it. It’s banned in New York state because they aren’t sure it won’t poison the water. NAP’s used it in Lake Merced, Pine Lake, Glen Canyon, and Mount Davidson, all of which are areas where water contamination is possible. [Edited to Add: In 2013, Milestone was reclassified as a Tier II chemical.]


Of course these chemicals are not good for people, and one would think that in a city that is so conscious of organic and green produce and products, wild lands would be one area that we’d try to keep organic. Not so. We even found evidence of blackberry bushes being sprayed – during the fruiting season when children and adults, birds and animals feast on the bonanza of berries.

Recent research indicates that both triclopyr and imazapyr are potentially toxic to butterflies – but NAP continues to use both Garlon and Polaris on Twin Peaks, where NAP are also struggling to re-introduce the endangered Mission Blue butterfly. Glyphosate is known to be dangerous to amphibians; but NAP uses Aquamaster around Lake Merced, Pine Lake, and in Glen Canyon – all near water-courses.

Finally, we have another problem with this use: it may be glorifying chemical solutions. A few months ago, a “volunteer” in Glen Canyon was found applying an unapproved pesticide to an area near a trail, without posting any notices or keeping any record of amounts or conditions. He believed he was doing a good thing for the environment. We have heard since of many other instances of random herbicide application in Natural Areas.


Furthermore, the list of plants on which it’s used also keeps expanding. It’s currently around 30, up from under 2 dozen a year ago. Some of the plants being sprayed aren’t on the list of the California Invasive Plants Council or USDA noxious plants lists.

We ask SF Recreation and Parks Dept  to stop using Tier I and Tier II pesticides in the Natural Areas. An escalating use of herbicides is bad for the environment and the people, pets and wildlife using these parks;  sends a damaging message about priorities; and indicates a lack of success.

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13 Responses to SF’s Natural Areas Program Uses Even More Pesticides

  1. Pingback: Natural Areas Program’s Pesticides: Toxic and Toxic-er | Save Mount Sutro Forest

  2. Who [name names] is responsible for these obvious assaults on our parks?
    It is important to know–and to stop this nonsense.

    -dolan eargle

  3. There is a virus going around–one that is in the minds of those who would poison and kill trees and shrubs all over the parks of our city. What will stop them? Raise your voices, stop the vices.

  4. rickbynight says:

    I don’t understand what’s going on. Why is NAP spraying toxic chemicals and downing trees? The goal of habitat “restoration” does not involve mass exterminations with toxic waste–what’s at the root of this, and who would knowingly do this? Any sane natural areas protector would never dream of doing something like this, so I really don’t understand.

  5. The logic is that non-native species have “invaded” the ecosystem (though the trees were actually planted for the most part). This has created a whole new ecosystem. If it’s to be “restored” to the way it was in 1769, then the trees and other non-native vegetation must go. That requires pesticides, repeatedly, because the reason the non-native plants are established here is that they are better suited to the current conditions – which no longer suit many of the “native” plants. We oppose destroying existing ecosystems and habitat; we have no quarrel with native plants. What results from these efforts is an impoverished habitat with less cover for birds and animals, a continuing use of pesticides, and access restrictions on park users to keep them off the native plant gardens NAP is trying to create.

  6. Pingback: Why are we poisoning ourselves? (revised) « Death of a Million Trees

  7. Pingback: American law prevents Canadians from reducing pesticide use | Death of a Million Trees

  8. Pingback: Glen Canyon: Nesting Season, Habitat Destruction, and Pesticide | San Francisco Forest Alliance

  9. Pingback: Sutro Forest Herbicide Projections: Bad News for San Francisco’s Natural Areas? | San Francisco Forest Alliance

  10. Pingback: Who’s Using Pesticides: Q1 Pesticides Report | San Francisco Forest Alliance

  11. Pingback: Why UC Berkeley’s Prof. McBride Wants to Save Mt Davidson | San Francisco Forest Alliance

  12. Pingback: Herbicide use on Mt Davidson – Nov. 2013 | San Francisco Forest Alliance

  13. Pingback: Butterflies vs Pesticides | San Francisco Forest Alliance

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