Pesticides on Mt Davidson

Observers have pointed out that Mt Davidson is one of the worst places in the city to spray with toxic herbicides. But despite that,  the Natural Resources Department (NRD – formerly Natural Areas Program, NAP) sprayed toxic herbicides 15 times in 2017. Many of these sprayings happened in November and December, when they’re targeting oxalis with Garlon. And they’re still doing it. This video was taken in March 2018, as were most of the pesticide pictures in this article.

4 people in protectiv suits spraying herbicides on Mt Davidson, San Francisco, in March 2018

WHY IS MT DAVIDSON A BAD PLACE TO SPRAY HERBICIDES?

Mt Davidson is a steep hill, surrounded by residential areas where families live – some of them with small children and many with pets. It’s just above an elementary school.

It’s part of the watershed for Glen Canyon, and the run-off feeds into the creek there – which runs just below a playschool for little kids. Because it’s in the fog belt and harvests moisture from the fog, it’s wet year-round – in winter from the rain, and in summer from cloud-forest precipitation.

This increases the likelihood that the chemicals are going to be carried down. Both Mt Davidson and Glen Canyon are popular with families, including pets. (Glen Canyon was even worse off – it got sprayed 30 times in 2017.)

One would think that this is an area that San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) would declare a pesticide-free zone. It’s not happening. We’re just starting to collect the 2018 data, but we already have evidence that there’s been no let-up. The Mt Davidson pesticide notice pictures here are from March 2018.

WHAT TOXIC HERBICIDES ON MT DAVIDSON?

Mt Davidson continues to be a target for the most hazardous Tier I and Tier II herbicides San Francisco’s Department of the Environment (SF Environment). SF Environment ranks pesticides into three tiers: Tier III is least hazardous, Tier II is More Hazardous; and Tier I is Most Hazardous.  On Mt Davidson, as in other “Natural Resource Areas” they use the “Fearsome Four”herbicides: Roundup/ Aquamaster (glyphosate); Garlon (triclopyr); Stalker/ Polaris/ Habitat (imazapyr); and Milestone VM (aminopyralid).

  • Roundup or glyphosate – the chemical the World Health Organization considers a probable carcinogen, and which is potentially an endocrine disruptor. It’s been rated Tier I in recent years; before that, it was Tier II.
  • Garlon or triclopyr – a chemical that has been Tier I since 2009 at least, and always carried the notation “HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE.
  • Polaris/ Stalker/ Habitat or imazapyr – a chemical that is mobile in the soil, and can affect not just the vegetation sprayed but plants and trees nearby. It’s also very persistent and doesn’t biodegrade easily.
  • Milestone VM or aminopyralid – a chemical that is even more persistent, so persistent that if animals eat it, their poop is still toxic. The UK prohibited its use for some years, and New York forbids its use because they’re afraid it will get into the watershed.

WHO IS APPLYING THESE HERBICIDES?

The Natural Resources Department (NRD) is the land manager here, and it’s their call on what to use, when, and how much. SF Environment can decide what herbicides are allowed on the list, but they do not influence amounts, locations, or frequency. That’s on the NRD.

The herbicides are applied by the Natural Areas program staff, who are city employees.

In addition, the city contracts with Shelterbelt, which also comes out and sprays herbicides. Sometimes they operate independently, while at other times, a mixed team of Shelterbelt and NRD staff go out together. The day these photographs were taken, Shelterbelt was also there.

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY

San Francisco has another mountain forest surrounded by residential neighborhoods – Mt Sutro Cloud Forest.

A part of that is owned by the city, but the larger part of it is owned by University of California San Francisco. Though we disagree with much of the plan UCSF has for Mt Sutro, primarily because of the planned destruction of thousands of trees – there is one thing they are getting right. They have banned pesticide use in their part of Sutro Forest.

In 2013, UCSF issued a statement that included these words:

“…as a health sciences university, we believe the right thing to do is not to use herbicides in the Reserve.”

In fact, they have used no pesticides in the forest since 2008, and in the Aldea Student Housing since 2009. With this statement, they confirmed they would not be using them at all.

We think this is an example that SFRPD – and especially NRD – could follow.

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Roundup: Probably Carcinogenic, and What Else?

It’s now widely known that Roundup has been found to be a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. (We wrote about that here: WHO – Roundup Probably Carcinogenic).

This is particularly disturbing, because it’s a very widely-used pesticide and the amounts found in humans have increased 5x since 1994 according to a UCSD study. Not only is it used in agriculture, it’s (still) used in our parks. Marin County has prohibited its use on public properties, but San Francisco’s Department of the Environment only reclassified it from Tier II (More Hazardous) to Tier I (Most Hazardous). The Natural Resources Department (NRD) of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Dept (SFRPD) continues to use it.

Photo of warning sign. Garlon, Aquamaster, Milestone on Mt Davidson. March 2018

Garlon, Aquamaster, Milestone on Mt Davidson. March 2018

But it’s not just a probable carcinogen. Research indicates a bunch of other issues:

VERY LIKELY AN ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR

It’s very likely to also be an endocrine disrupter, which means it acts like a hormone in the human body, and can be a problem at very low doses.

Hormone disruption diagram - Source: NIH

Hormone disruption – Source: NIH

In a letter an EPA scientist Dr Marion Copley sent before she died, she not only said it was carcinogenic, she noted “glyphosate was originally designed as a chelating agent…” and lists the issues with chelating agents, including, “Chelaters are endocrine disrupters…” (That article is here: “It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer.”)

If you want to read about how endocrine disruptors work, that’s a link to the National Institutes of Health website. It notes: “Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming.”

BIRTH DEFECTS IN VERTEBRATES

A paper published May 2010 in the journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology linked glyphosate to birth defects in vertebrates. We’d like people who have assumed that Roundup’s problems come mainly from its surfactant POEA to take a look. (This is not to say POEA is harmless. That has been implicated in embryonic cell death also, in a 2008 French study published in the same journal.)

In Argentina, glyphosate (the active ingredient of Roundup) is widely used on soybean. In soybean-growing areas, there were reports of increased birth defects of a particular type: malformed heads, eyes, and brains. A groups of researchers therefore decided to investigate whether glyphosate could indeed cause that type of birth defect.

The abstract of the article indicates that Roundup increased retinoic acid activity in vertebrate embryos, causing “neural defects and craniofacial malformations.”

Heart-breaking Birth Defects

Women of child-bearing age should be especially careful. The most vulnerable period, according to the paper, is in the first 2-8 weeks of pregnancy. Many people don’t even know they’re pregnant that early on. Furthermore, even the mature placenta is permeable to glyphosate. After 2.5 hours of perfusion, 15% of it crosses over.

The actual article, which we read elsewhere describes some of the birth defects: microcephaly (tiny head); microphthalmia (tiny undeveloped eyes); impairment of hindbrain development; cyclopia (also called cyclocephaly – a single eye in the middle of the forehead, like the picture here); and neural tube defects. These are quite devastating. Many fetuses do not come to term, and many babies with these conditions die within hours or days.

INTERFERING WITH REPRODUCTION

There’s some evidence that glyphosate interferes with male reproduction, too. A 2014 article published in Science in Society in the UK, entitled “Glyphosate/ Roundup and Human Male Infertility” links glyphosate to falling sperm counts and lowered testosterone levels.

National Institutes of Health published a  paper in August 2000 that indicated Roundup interfered with reproductive hormones in rats.

DISRUPTION OF GUT BACTERIA

Other research has implicated glyphosate in other risk factors, particularly since it can disrupt gut bacteria in humans. We wrote about that here: Pesticides and Cancer, Glyphosate and Gut Bugs.

A 2013 article at RodalesOrganicLife.com suggests the growing evidence against glyphosate, possibly the world’s most widely used herbicide: ‘Once called “safer than aspirin,” glyphosate’s reputation for safety isn’t holding up to the scrutiny of independent research. More and more non-industry-funded scientists are finding links between the chemical and all sorts of problems, including cell death, birth defects, miscarriage, low sperm counts, DNA damage, and more recently, destruction of gut bacteria.’

Researchers found that glyphosate residues on food interfere with certain enzymes, with the result that  “…glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body.”

[That paper, published in 2013 the journal Entropy, is HERE.]
It suggests that glyphosate might be causing a lot of the health problems that have been associated with Western diets – including “obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”

BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND MOST LIVING THINGS

Glyphosate is bad for most living things. Research by way of a review of literature published in December 2017 by Springer Publishing concluded:

“Glyphosate poses serious threat to multicellular organisms as well. Its toxicological effects have been traced from lower invertebrates to higher vertebrates. Effects have been observed in annelids (earthworms), arthropods (crustaceans and insects), mollusks, echinoderms, fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds.”

It’s very dangerous to frogs and other amphibians, and quite dangerous to fish.

It damages the soil. How? It binds to the soil, and acts as a “chelating agent” – trapping elements like magnesium that plants need to grow and thus impoverishing the soil. Research also indicates it kills beneficial soil fungi while allowing dangerous ones to grow.  There’s a good article about that on the Million Trees website: Gyphosate (AKA Roundup) is damaging the soil  that discusses a New York Times article on the subject.

WHO’S USING GLYPHOSATE?

Most of SFRPD has continued to decrease use of glyphosate in 2017 – except for the Natural Resource Department (NRD, formerly Natural Areas Program – NAP). Here’s the comparison.

These graphs are in fluid ounces of active ingredient. The blue section is the use in 2016, and the orange section shows 2017.  NRD actually used slightly less glyphosate in 2016 than the rest of SFRPD (excluding Harding Golf Course, which is managed under an outside PGA contract). But in 2017, it used nearly 2 1/2 times as much.

Bear in mind that NRD accounts for a quarter of our park land in San Francisco.

Though we are glad SFRPD has been reducing use, we should be wary: Why Low Dose Pesticides are Still HazardsEndocrine disruptors can act at very low dilutions, and in their case, the old adage that the “dose makes the poison” is not true.

San Francisco “Natural Resources” Herbicide Usage Up 57% in 2017

We have recently analyzed the data for herbicide use in the full year 2017 for San Francisco’s so-called “Natural Resources Department” (NRD – formerly Natural Areas Program). It’s up 57% from the previous year.

NRD is a department of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD). We were greatly encouraged when NRD started reducing herbicide use in 2014. Before that, pesticide use had increased sharply from 2009 onwards. (You can read an article about that here: SF’s Natural Areas Program – more pesticide in 2013.) Another sharp reduction in 2016 was even more encouraging – though it’s never come down to 2008 or 2009 levels. (The graph above shows annual NRD herbicide usage in fluid ounces of active ingredient.)

But this year, it’s up again, almost to 2015 levels. We have been hoping that SFRPD is working to eliminate all Tier I and Tier II herbicides, with leadership from the Department of the Environment (SF Environment).

For the rest of SFRPD (excluding Harding Golf Course, which is managed under a PGA contract), they have actually reduced usage. They use a greater variety of herbicides than NRD, of which more later. But they are using less – across all their parks and golf courses – than the NRD is. NRD forms a quarter of the area of SFRPD.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE HERBICIDES?

NRD uses four herbicides: Two that SF Environment classifies as Tier I (“Most Hazardous”) and two classified as Tier II (“More Hazardous”). The Tier I herbicides are Roundup/ Aquamaster (glyphosate) and Garlon 4 Ultra (triclopyr); and Stalker/ Polaris/ Habitat (imazapyr) and Milestone VM (Aminopyralid) are Tier II. (In the first picture, with the white dog, the sign posted on Mount Davidson indicates they are using Aquamaster, Garlon, and Milestone in March 2018.)

These hazard rankings can change: Roundup/ Aquamaster (glyphosate) was reclassified from Tier II to Tier I when the World Health Organization found it was a probable human carcinogen. Milestone (Aminopyralid) was reclassified from Tier I to Tier II, despite the fact that it is extremely persistent and mobile in the environment.

THE FEARSOME FOUR

As you research these herbicides, you may find – as we did – that much of the research originates with the companies that produce them. It may be unbiased, but the evidence is that it often is not. So we looked for other sources, which are easier to find for well-established herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup or Aquamaster). It doesn’t mean the others are innocuous.

ROUNDUP or AQUAMASTER (Glyphosate)

  • Carcinogenic. In April 2015, the World Health Organization determined glyphosate was a “probably carcinogenic.”  EPA scientist Dr Marion Copley  sent a letter before her death saying it was essentially certain that glyphosate  causes cancer. She also said that as a chelater, it was likely an endocrine disruptor.
  • Associated with birth defects. It’s been associated with birth-defects, especially around the head, brain and neural tube — defects like microcephaly (tiny head); microphthalmia (tiny undeveloped eyes); impairment of hindbrain development; cyclopia (also called cyclocephaly – a single eye in the middle of the forehead).
  • Bad for the soil. Research indicates it kills beneficial soil fungi while allowing dangerous ones to grow.
    It binds to the soil, and acts as a “chelating agent” – trapping elements like magnesium that plants need to grow and thus impoverishing the soil.
  • Bad for other living things. It’s very dangerous to frogs and other amphibians, and quite dangerous to fish.

GARLON (Triclopyr)

  • Garlon is even more hazardous than Roundup. It’s been classified as Tier I for at least as as long as we have been monitoring pesticide use in San Francisco.
  • Garlon “causes severe birth defects in rats at relatively low levels of exposure.” Baby rats were born with brains outside their skulls, or no eyelids. Exposed adult females rats also had more failed pregnancies.
  • Rat and dog studies showed damage to the kidneys, the liver, and the blood.
  • About 1-2% of Garlon falling on human skin is absorbed within a day. For rodents, its absorbed twelve times as fast. It’s unclear what happens to predators such as hawks that eat the affected rodents.
  • Dogs  may be particularly vulnerable; their kidneys may not be able to handle Garlon as well as rats or humans.  Dow Chemical objected when the Environmental Protection agency noted decreased red-dye excretion as an adverse effect, so now it’s just listed as an “effect.”
  • It very probably alters soil biology. “Garlon 4 can inhibit growth in the mycorrhizal fungi…” ( soil funguses that help plant nutrition.)
  • It’s particularly dangerous to aquatic creatures: fish (particularly salmon); invertebrates; and aquatic plants.
  • Garlon can persist for up to two years in dead vegetation .

The NRD uses Garlon extensively against oxalis. If it terminated its war on oxalis, it could stop using Garlon altogether.

POLARIS, HABITAT, STALKER  (Imazapyr)
This is a relatively new pesticide, and not much is known about it — except that it’s very persistent. In Sweden, it was found in the soil 8 years after a single application. It not only doesn’t degrade, some plants excrete it through their roots so it travels through the environment.

It can cause irreversible damage to the eyes, and irritate the skin and mucosa. As early as 1996, the Journal of Pesticide Reform noted that a major breakdown product  is quinolic acid, which is “irritating to eyes, the respiratory system and skin. It is also a neurotoxin, causing nerve lesions and symptoms similar to Huntington’s disease.”
It’s prohibited in the European Union countries, since 2002; and in Norway since December 2001 because of groundwater concerns.

MILESTONE (Aminopyralid)
Milestone is a Dow product that kills broadleaf plants while ignoring most grasses. This is even more problematically persistent than Imazapyr; a computer search yielded warnings of poisoned compost.

What?

It seems that this chemical is so persistent that if it’s sprayed on plants, and animals eat those plants, it still doesn’t break down. They excrete the stuff in their droppings. If those are composted — it still doesn’t break down the chemical. So now the compost’s got weedkiller in it, and it doesn’t nourish the plants fertilized with the compost, it kills them.

The manufacturer sees this as  a benefit. “Because of its residual activity, control can last all season long, or into the season after application on certain weed species,” says the Dow AgroSciences FAQ sheet.
Nevertheless, after an outcry and problems, Dow AgroSciences stopped selling Milestone in the UK for a number of years. It’s also prohibited for use in New York.

IT’S TIME TO STOP

There’s growing evidence that herbicides are more dangerous, more mobile, and more persistent than their manufacturers claim. Glyphosate, for instance, is widely found in all water sources, in the soil – and in people. A UCSF study of glyphosate in urine found: “Glyphosate residues were observed in 93% of urine samples in voluntary public testing in the U.S. general population; this is higher than the frequency observed in Europe using GC-MS (43.9%)”  and “exposure is likely due to dietary intake or environmental exposure.”

With endocrine disruptors, the old theory “the dose makes the poison” doesn’t work. They are potent at very low levels.

These are parks that we visit with our families, including kids and pets. Kids are particularly vulnerable to pesticides because of their low body weight and rapid growth. These are the watersheds that feed chemicals into our groundwater (which is also now being added to our domestic water supply).

The San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for No Pesticides in our Parks.

Two Myths of Nativism: Mutually Exclusive Relationships, and Eucalyptus Allelopathy

We re-publish with permission (and added emphasis) an article from  MillionTrees.me, a website that fights the unnecessary felling of trees in the Bay Area. The article, a report from someone who attended the February 2018 meeting of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), is important for two reasons:
Read more of this post

The Myth that Nothing Grows Under Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus haters are fond of saying “Nothing grows under eucalyptus.” This refers to “allelopathy” of eucalyptus trees – a defense mechanism in some plants that uses chemical means to prevent other plants growing in the same area. This is empirically a myth, as laid out in this article: Eucalyptus Myths.

When confronted with the tangles of diverse vegetation thriving in the eucalyptus forests on Mt Davidson and Mt Sutro, they amend it to “No native plant grows under eucalyptus” – assuming that native plants as a class have particular characteristics that make them susceptible.  Recent scientific research shows that’s a myth too

 

ABSTRACT: EVALUATING THE MYTH OF ALLELOPATHY IN CALIFORNIA EUCALYPTUS GLOBULUS PLANTATIONS (NELSON, RITTER, YOST)

Here’s the abstract from a paper presented at recent conference of the California Native Plant Society (Feb 2018):

“14.05 Evaluating the myth of allelopathy in California Eucalyptus globulus (Myrtaceae) plantations
Kristen Nelson, Matt Ritter, Jenn Yost, California Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA

It is widely accepted that allelopathy is not only significant, but more or less singular, in the inhibition of understory vegetation in California Eucalyptus globulus (Myrtaceae) plantations. However, there is no published documentation of allelopathy by blue gums against California native species despite continuous references in the literature since the late 1960’s. Previous studies on allelopathy have been inconclusive and criticized for their lack of meaningful, ecologically relevant controls, test species, and test conditions.

We tested the effect of blue gum soil, volatile leaf extracts, and water-soluble leaf extracts on germination and early seedling growth of five California native species that are common components of native habitats typically found adjacent to blue gum plantations. We conducted greenhouse and laboratory experiments to compare the effect of blue gum extracts to ecologically-relevant controls including water, a non allelopathic native plant control (Quercus agrifolia [Fagaceae]), and a native allelopathic plant control (Salvia apiana [Lamiaceae]).

In these experiments, we found that germination and seedling growth of the species tested were not inhibited by chemical extracts of blue gum foliage, either at naturally-occurring or artificially concentrated levels. These results are significant because they are the first to test an allelopathic effect of blue gums against ecologically-relevant species. These results may have significant implications for management and restoration of land historically occupied by blue gum.”

In other words – they looked for allelopathy and they didn’t find it.

The picture below, incidentally, shows Pacific Reed Grass – a native plant – growing under eucalyptus. It’s often found growing under eucalyptus because the water precipitated from the fog provides its preferred growing conditions.

 

 

Mt Davidson: Tree Destruction Imminent?

There’s a lot of activity at the Juanita entrance of Mt Davidson, and neighbors fear the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is rushing through its tree-felling program. At a time when we need trees more than ever to fight climate change, and mudslides in Southern California illustrate the devastating effects of destroyed trees and vegetation, this would be egregious.

Here’s a note from a forest-lover:

What I’ve seen so far as of last week is preparation and road, trail widening with landing areas for equipment, but no big cuttings or equipment in the interior yet. Just the one big landmark, living tree marked with dots, and all the prior destruction.”

Huge eucalyptus tree on Mt Davidson, San Francisco, marked with 3 green dots

Do these dots mark this iconic tree for killing?

TRAILS BEING WIDENED FOR HEAVY EQUIPMENT?


What equipment will go up here? Maybe a “Brontosaurus”?

TREES DESTROYED EARLIER

Tree have been destroyed on Mount Davidson some years ago, and this prior destruction gives some idea of what the desired end-condition is for the next round. The so-called “boneyard” has stumps of dead trees.

 

This tall mature tree was “girdled.” That’s a process of destroying cutting a deep ring around the tree, so that food and water cannot be transported and the tree starves to death.

A beautiful green and flourishing tree that provided food and habitat for birds, and brought joy to forest lovers, is a dead skeleton.

THE BEAUTIFUL FOREST WE ARE LOSING

The lovely forest we are losing is beautiful and historic, and provides habitat for a huge number of birds. But it’s not just beauty and habitat. These trees provide important eco-system services.  Some examples:

  • They stabilize the mountain, with their intergrafted roots forming a living geo-textile. The horrible mudslides in Southern California illustrate how important this is.
  • They fight pollution, especially pollution from particulate matter, by trapping the particles on their leaves until rain or fog drips them to the forest floor where they are not in the atmosphere – or our lungs.
  • They form a wind-break in what would be one of the windiest areas of the city, with the wind blowing in straight off the sea.
  • They regulate water flows, so that when it rains hard, the forest acts as a sponge, absorbing the water and letting it flow out gradually.
  • They catch moisture from the fog during summer, making the mountain damp and reducing fire hazard.

Please let City Hall and SFRPD know that you want this forest protected and saved, not gutted. The plan is to remove 1600 trees!

[Update 1/19/18:  We spoke with the contractor on site. Seven trees have been cut down, and that completes this contract. Hopefully we will have more public notice and explanation if other tree removals are planned.]

Season’s Greetings!

With this holiday season rolling around again, we’re pausing to realize that the San Francisco Forest Alliance is six years old! Our first post – about pesticide use on Twin Peaks – was on Dec 19, 2011.

It’s been six years of advocating for our trees, our trails, our wildlife habitats. Six years of fighting against toxic herbicides used in our parks.  This year we’re gearing up to bring our message of inclusive environmentalism to a broader audience.

To all our supporters and readers – SEASON’S GREETINGS!
We hope you’ll continue to stand with us and spread the word.