Herbicide Use by San Francisco Natural Resource Department Rises Sharply in 1H 2018

The Natural Resources Department’s low-pesticide-usage honeymoon is over, judging by the pesticide usage data from the first half of 2018. If this continues in the second half, NRD will end the year at nearly the level of pesticide use in 2013.

The NRD accounted for 80% of the herbicide use (calculated by active ingredient) and for 85% of the applications in Jan-June 2018. The NRD, which is responsible for the “Natural Resource Areas” of San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD), is the largest user of herbicides in SFRPD (barring Harding Park, which we exclude because the golf course is managed under contract with the PGA Tour).

Except for the NRD, the rest of SFRPD has been extremely effective at reducing herbicide use. and used no Tier I herbicides at all in this time. The Tier system, implemented by the SF Department of the Environment (SF Environment), is a hazard rating. Tier III is “Least Hazardous”‘ Tier I is “Most Hazardous.”

POURING ON THE GARLON

NRD is the only user of Garlon in SFRPD, which it uses only on yellow-flowering oxalis. In six months of 2018, it had already used more Garlon than in any whole year in the last four years. (That’s the orange column in the chart below.) Garlon is the worst of the “reduced risk” herbicides. It’s Tier I (according to the SF Environment rating system, where Tier I is “most hazardous” and Tier III is “least hazardous.”) and has been listed as “HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE” for at least a decade.

This massive increase is the direct fallout of NRD’s futile and anti-ecological oxalis war.  (See Five Reasons it’s Okay to Love Oxalis — and Stop Poisoning It.)

 

ROUNDUP USE RISING AGAIN

The use of  Roundup (or Aquamaster) dropped in 2016, after the WHO declared glyphosate (the active ingredient) a probable human carcinogen and SF Environment moved it from a Tier II to a Tier I rating. (See: Roundup Probably Carcinogenic) But it’s rising again. If the second half is as bad as the first half, glyphosate use will exceed 2017’s, which was more than double the amount used the 2016.

NRD uses four herbicides: Garlon (triclopyr) the most hazardous, which is Tier I; Roundup/ Aquamaster (glyphosate) which was re-rated to Tier I in 2015; Polaris/ Habitat (imazapyr), a pesticide whose breakdown product is a neurotoxin, and is persistent and mobile in the soil; and Milestone VM (aminopyralid), which is even more persistent and can remain active for years and keep poisoning the soil. Its usage of all four has risen, if we prorate the half-year usage figures.

OTHER PESTICIDES ALSO RISING

SFRPD is has added three new herbicides: Axxe, Lifeline and Clearcast. The last two are on the draft “Reduced Risk” list for 2018, though the SF Environment website says the 2017 list is still the current one.  SFRPD has been using Clearcast in lakes in Golden Gate Park (GGP Nursery) against water primrose and parrot feather plant. Lifeline has been used once, on the hardscaping in Golden Gate Nursery. Axxe, which is a Tier II pesticide and is actually on the 2017 list  has been used a number of times. In the Natural Areas, it’s been used on Twin Peaks against oxalis (that’s the “Other Tier II” in the column chart above).

While we are glad that SFRPD has moved so strongly to reduce herbicide use (at least in non-Natural areas), we’re disappointed that it continues to consider pesticides a viable strategy. We would like to see SF Environment take the leadership in moving San Francisco to a policy of No Pesticides in our Parks and Watersheds.

 

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The Very Long Life of Eucalyptus Trees

This article is republished with permission and minor changes from Death of a Million Trees, a website that fights unnecessary tree killing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

 

PUTTING ANOTHER MYTH TO REST: LIFESPAN OF BLUE GUM EUCALYPTUS

When the native plant movement began in earnest, about 25 years ago, its proponents weren’t expecting blowback from those who value the existing landscape.  As far as they were concerned, the trees had to be destroyed solely because they “don’t belong here.”

When they started destroying our predominantly non-native urban forest, they learned that it wasn’t going to be as easy as they thought.  They began to defend their destructive projects with cover stories to convince the public who didn’t share their devotion to native plants that it is necessary to destroy non-native trees because they are a threat to public safety and to wildlife.

One by one, we have debunked the myths that were used to justify the destruction of our urban forest:

Great horned owl in eucalyptus. Courtesy urbanwildness.org

  • About 20 years ago, one of the first myths was that eucalyptus trees kill birds. It is an absurd claim that is completely unsupported by reality.  With a lot of careful research, we were eventually successful in convincing the public that birds are not harmed by eucalyptus.  In fact, many bird species are dependent upon the trees for safe nesting and winter nectar.   That myth is dead.
  • The claim that eucalyptus and other non-native trees are more flammable than native trees was a powerful narrative that was more difficult to kill. As wildfires have increased in frequency and intensity in California, that claim is no longer credible because every wildfire occurs in native vegetation.  Again, this myth was eventually disproved by reality.
  • More recently, we have finally put to rest the claim that “nothing grows under eucalyptus.” This myth was based on a theory that eucalyptus emits allelopathic chemicals that prevent the growth of plants in the eucalyptus forest.  Thanks to a recent, rigorous study done at Cal Poly, we know with confidence that the allelopathy story is another myth.

It was not surprising that the nativists, having run out of bogus justifications, created a new narrative.  In parks that the East Bay Regional Parks District had been planning to thin, we began to see clear cuts.  When we inquired about why it was necessary to destroy ALL of the trees, we were told they were hazardous.  Then, in the minutes of a meeting of East Bay Regional Park District Park Advisory Committee , we saw the claim that eucalyptus lives only 50-60 years.  Simultaneously, this claim was made in San Francisco by proponents of destroying all eucalyptus trees there.

We eventually tracked down the source of that lifespan estimate to a website called SelecTree, which originally said that the longevity of blue gums is only 50-150 years.  We knew that isn’t an accurate estimate because of how long blue gums live in Australia and how long they have already lived in California.  We provided that information to the authors of SelecTree and were able to get the estimate corrected to “greater than 150 years.”  That’s not nearly long enough, but it is the longest lifespan estimate available on that website and it corresponds with many other trees, including native Coast Live Oak.

In the process of researching the lifespan of eucalyptus, we learned several interesting stories about blue gums that have lived in California for 150 years and are still going strong.  We would like to share some of this information with our readers today.

BLUE GUM EUCALYPTUS IN AUSTRALIA LIVES 200-400 YEARS

Blue gum eucalyptus and all other species of eucalyptus are native to Australia.  They were brought to California shortly after the Gold Rush of 1849.  Since they haven’t been in California 200 years, we don’t know how long they will live here.  But how long they live in Australia is obviously relevant to answer that question because longevity is specific to tree species.  We can expect some variation by climate, but not much, and the climate of Australia is similar to the climate in California with wet, mild winters and hot, dry summers.

We know that blue gums live in Australia about 200-400 years because Australian scientists tell us that:

Growth Habits of the Eucalypts by M.R. Jacobs, (Institute of Foresters of Australia, 1955, 1986): Blue Gum eucalyptus lives in Australia from 200-400 years, depending upon the climate.” In milder climates, such as San Francisco, the Blue Gum lives toward the longer end of this range.

That reference was corroborated by John Helms, Professor Emeritus of Forestry at UC Berkeley and an Australian who said in response to our question about blue gums in California, “Blue gums would commonly live for 200 – 400 years, although I presume that some might live longer.”

We also asked the Australian National Botanic Gardens.  They said, “It’s possible that the average lifespan of a native species growing in the wild in Australia would differ to the average lifespan of the same species introduced in northern California, since introduced plants can often “escape” their natural predators when such introductions occur.”

In other words, since eucalyptus trees have more predators in Australia than they do in California, we should expect them to live longer here.  This is called the “predator release” hypothesis.  Ironically, that hypothesis is used by nativists to support their claim that eucalyptus is invasive in California.  (California Invasive Plant Council rates the “invasiveness” of blue gum as “limited.)  It’s only logical to apply that hypothesis to the question of how long blue gums will live in California.

MANY HEALTHY BLUE GUMS IN CALIFORNIA ARE 150 YEARS OLD

However, using actual experience in Australia to predict the future of blue gums in California requires some speculation.  Therefore, we turned to the question of how long they have lived in California for guidance.  We found several interesting local stories about blue gums that were planted in California 150 years ago and remain healthy and vigorous today.

There are many examples of blue gums being planted as street trees in California about 150 years ago.  One of the most well-known examples is the city of Burlingame on the San Francisco peninsula. When the City was founded in the 1870s, John McLaren was hired to plant trees to provide a much needed windbreak because the City was nearly treeless, as was the entire San Francisco peninsula.  McLaren planted over 500 eucalyptus (blue gum and manna) along the main highway through Burlingame, along with a row of English elms.  John McLaren was subsequently hired by the city of San Francisco, where he planted many more eucalypts while serving as superintendent of the parks department for 53 years.

The eucalypts in Burlingame are still thriving, but the elms have been dead for about 60 years.  SelecTree says the longevity of English elms is “greater than 150 years,” the longest category of longevity published by SelecTree and completely open-ended.

El Camino Real bordered by Eucalyptus trees. Burlingame, SF Bay area, California, USA

The people of Burlingame greatly value their eucalypts and designated them as “heritage trees” in 1975 under a local ordinance.  That local legal status did not protect them from several attempts by Caltrans to destroy the trees.  The people of Burlingame came to the defense of the trees and were eventually successful in getting permanent legal status to protect 2.2 miles of the trees.  That section of El Camino Real in Burlingame lined with eucalyptus was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Caltrans is now working cooperatively with the people of Burlingame to address safety concerns while “also keeping an eye to the prized grove of eucalyptus trees along the street.”  A task force was formed in 2018 to discuss these issues.  The City of Burlingame remains committed to the preservation of these trees, which suggests that they have a future there. (1)

The life span of street trees is generally much shorter than trees planted as forests because they are subjected to more wind and polluted air of heavily traveled roads, such as El Camino Real.  Although blue gums have passed the test of those challenging conditions with flying colors, they have not been planted as street trees for decades.  Their out-sized scale makes them unsuitable for that purpose.  If blue gums can survive as street trees on heavily traveled roads, they can surely survive longer in the protection of their neighbors in forests.

BLUE GUMS AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY

The blue gums on the campus of Stanford University are another example of 150 year-old blue gums that are very much alive.  Although blue gums were included in the campus landscape design of Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1880s, many of the blue gums actually predate his design:  “Several hundred mighty giants on the campus date back prior to 1870 when Leland Stanford acquired several farm properties, one of which already had avenues of gum trees.  They are mostly Tasmanian blue gums and red gums with a sprinkling of manna trees.”

Eucalyptus on Stanford campus

That description of the old blue gums was written in 1971.  The trees are still alive and well.  I worked on the Stanford campus for 10 years and walked among those trees at every opportunity.

AN EVEN OLDER OLMSTED DESIGN IN OAKLAND

Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1860s.  Like most of the East Bay, the site was treeless.  Olmsted’s design was an eclectic collection of mostly non-native trees, including blue gums.  The cemetery is on steep, windward facing hills, where the windbreak provided by blue gums is particularly valued.

Eucalyptus in Mountain View Cemetery, planted on an unirrigated windward facing hill. 2017

Olmsted designed a straight avenue through the cemetery lined with magnolia trees.  Many of the magnolia trees have died and those that remain are in poor condition.  SelecTree claims that the life span of Southern magnolia is “greater than 150 years,” which is contradicted by our local experience.

The current owner of the cemetery destroyed many of the blue gums about 5 years ago, in the middle of the extreme drought.  He replaced many of the blue gums with redwoods.  The redwoods are irrigated and are still surviving.  I did not object to the removal of the blue gums because they are on private property.  I confine my advocacy to healthy trees on public land.

LONG LIVE THE BLUE GUMS!

SelecTree has revised its listing of blue gum longevity based on the information we provided.  The myth that our blue gums are dying of old age will not die as easily.  We will have to repeat this information many times and in many different venues, just as we did for every other myth.  If and when that particular myth dies, we can be sure there will be another waiting in the wings.  Ideologies stubbornly persist, despite contradictory evidence.  And yet, we just as stubbornly persist in defense of our urban forest.


(1) Here is the public record, on which my report about the trees in Burlingame is based:

https://burlingameproperties.com/articles/1607-burlingame-s-heritage-trees

https://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/future-plotted-for-burlingame-s-el-camino-real/article_a27c43c4-1dd1-11e8-8a5d-b31dfaa94144.html

http://www.burlingamevoice.com/2012/03/nationally-historic-100-years-of-protection-rewarded.html

https://tclf.org/landscapes/howard-ralston-eucalyptus-rows

http://articles.latimes.com/2003/aug/10/local/me-sbriefs10.1

Why a NO vote on AB 2470 (June 2018 election)

AB 2470, “Invasive Species” is a bill to “establish the Invasive Species Council of California, composed as prescribed, to help coordinate a comprehensive effort to exclude invasive species already established in the state. The bill would establish a California Invasive Species Advisory Committee to advise the council on a broad array of issues related to preventing the introduction of invasive species and providing for their control or eradication, as well as minimizing the economic, ecological, and human health impacts that invasive species cause…”

Fortunately, the Bill has been amended so no funds are being allocated to this effort. We still think it’s a dangerous bill that will result in a massive increase in pesticide use and environmental destruction.

LETTER FROM SAN FRANCISCO FOREST ALLIANCE

Here’s our letter on the subject:

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Our members attended a recent budget town hall conducted by Assembly Member Phil Ting. It sharpened our appreciation of California’s needs in the fields of housing, education and health care.

With many thanks for removing funding for Weed Management Areas and Invasive Species Fund from AB 2470, we question the necessity of establishing both an Invasive Species Council of California and a California Invasive Species Advisory Committee proposed in the Bill.

When councils/committees are established – the requests for funding will follow.
We have observed that the current California Invasive Plant Council (Cal IPC) is an organization dedicated to eliminating plants which they deem undesirable, by the use of highly hazardous herbicides. We find this unacceptable.

Spraying of calla lilies here, in San Francisco, with a high hazard herbicide is but one example of these damaging practices. While calla lilies don’t endanger the health of the residents, there is plenty of evidence that the chemicals used to kill these lilies do. Just last year the Cal IPC added over 50 “potentially invasive” plants to the list of those where they claim herbicide spraying is justified.

Some of the plants designated as “undesirable” are “non-native” trees, many of which have been here for over 100 years and had long since became naturalized and habitats for insects, birds and animals both “native” and “non-native.”

Tree removals cause array of problems.

According to Scientific American: “from logging, agricultural production and other economic activities, deforestation adds more atmospheric CO2 than the sum total of cars and trucks on the world’s roads.” “Native” restorations/removal of “undesirable” trees are activities destroying forests, although they present themselves as environmental endeavors.
When trees are felled they release the carbon they are storing into the atmosphere, the future carbon sequestration is lost, so is the air pollution reduction. There are issues of potential landslides in hilly areas, increase in wind and noise, loss of wildlife habitat.

And, of course, the stumps of killed trees are treated with high hazard herbicides.

According to the Bill, the Invasive Species Council of California and the California Invasive Species Advisory Committee would be established “to help coordinate a comprehensive effort to exclude invasive species already established in the state…” We contend that the means of such “exclusions” are far more damaging and cause far more severe economic, ecological and human health impacts than the “invasive” species possibly can.

We urge the NO vote on AB 2470.

Thank you,

San Francisco Forest Alliance


We have been disturbed by the tendency in the established environmental movement to villainize “non-native” “invasive” species as a basis for declaring a “war” on them. It provides an opportunity to raise or deploy funding, to use a great deal of pesticides, and to “take action” by cutting down trees and tearing out habitat – even when it is environmentally destructive. We oppose the establishment of further institutions that will have a vested interest in these activities.

Why We Oppose Prop 68 (June 2018 Election)

Proposition 68 is on ballot in the upcoming elections. It would authorize the State in California to sell $4.1 billion in bonds for “park and water” improvements. Unfortunately, roughly a third of the money will be allocated for “protection of natural habitats.”

 

MONEY TO FELL TREES AND SPRAY TOXIC HERBICIDES

Over time, we’ve learned what that means, and it’s not protection of anything. In public agencies’ vocabulary “protection of natural habitats,” “native restorations,” “protection of endangered species” usually mean attempts to convert “non-native ” vegetation to “native” by killing trees and using high hazard herbicides.  The actual actions are: (1) Cutting down trees, often thousands of trees (2) Spraying toxic herbicides – including probable carcinogens – in an attempt to prevent the “non-native” plants from growing. When money becomes available, the pace and extent of these activities increases. See: Oyster Bay: Firehose of Funds Means a Firehose of Pesticides

We oppose the felling of trees especially in this time of climate change. Trees sequester carbon, clean the air, stabilize the ground, and provide habitat.

We also oppose the use of toxic herbicides in so-called “Natural” habitats and in these destructive “restorations.” Over time, we’ve understood that herbicides are often more toxic and more persistent than the manufacturers originally claimed. Using them in this way contaminates soil and water, creating unknown dangers for the future.

 

We expect that San Francisco will obtain some of this money to finance implementation of Natural Resource Management Plan.

How many trees can be killed, and how much toxic herbicide can be poured into the Earth for $1.35 BILLION dollars? We recommend a “NO” vote on proposition 68.

FISCAL IMPACTS

We cannot see any pressing fiscal need either.

From the League of Women Voters website: “During the past 17 years voters approved almost $27 billion in general obligation bonds for various natural resources projects, of which the State still has almost $9 billion available. Repaying the bonds is expected to cost an estimated $200 million each year for 40 years, resulting in a total cost of $7.8 billion. There may be savings to local governments in tens of millions of dollars because the bond money available will relieve the local governments from paying for all of a project. There are unknown costs and savings associated with the actual operation and impacts of the projects produced.”

Oyster Bay: Firehose of Funds means a Firehose of Herbicides

This article is reprinted from the website Death of a Million Trees with permission and minor changes.

 

OYSTER BAY: A FIREHOSE OF PUBLIC FUNDING SUPPLIES A FIREHOSE OF HERBICIDES

Oyster Bay is one of several East Bay Regional Parks along the east side of the bay that is a former garbage dump built on landfill. We visited Oyster Bay for the first time in 2011 after a former Deputy General Manager of the park district told us that it is a “beautiful native plant garden” and a model for a similar project at Albany Bulb, another former garbage dump being “restored” by the park district.

When we visited seven years ago, we found a park in the early stages of being destroyed in order to rebuild it as a native plant museum. Since there were never any native plants on this landfill, we can’t call it a “restoration.” We took many pictures of the park in 2011 that are available HERE.

We recently decided it was time to revisit the park when we noticed pictures of it in the recently published annual report of the park district’s Integrated Pest Management program, indicating recent changes in the development of the park. My article today is about what is happening now at Oyster Bay. It is still not a “beautiful native plant garden.”

“RESTORING” GRASSLAND  

Non-native annual grassland. Oyster Bay April 2011

Seven years ago, most of Oyster Bay was acres of non-native annual grasses. Since then, most of those acres of grassland have been plowed up and are in various stages of being planted with (one species?) of native bunch grass (purple needle grass?).

Stages of grassland conversion. Oyster Bay May 2018

On our May 1st visit, there were at least 8 pesticide application notices posted where the native bunch grass has been planted. Several different herbicides will be used in those sprayings: glyphosate, Garlon (triclopyr), and Milestone (aminopyralid).

Herbicide Application Notices, Oyster Bay May 2018

Grassland “restoration” in California is notoriously difficult. Million Trees has published several articles about futile attempts to convert non-native annual grassland to native grassland:

We wish EBRPD good luck in this effort to convert acres of non-native annual grass into native bunch grass. Frankly, it looks like a lot of public money down the drain to us. It also looks like an excuse to use a lot of herbicide.

Redwing blackbird in non-native mustard. Oyster Bay May 2018

Who benefits from this project? Not the taxpayer. Not the park visitor who is now exposed to a lot of herbicide that wasn’t required in the past. Not the wildlife, birds, and insects that lived in and ate the non-native vegetation. (We spotted a coyote running through the stumps of bunch grass. Was he/she looking for cover?)

DESTROYING TREES AND REPLACING THEM 

Pittosporum forest was an excellent visual screen, sound barrier, and wind break. It was healthy and well-suited to the conditions on this site. It was probably home to many animals.
Oyster Bay April 2011

When we visited Oyster Bay in 2011, many trees had already been destroyed, but there was still a dense forest of non-native pittosporum. That forest is gone and the park district has planted one small area with native trees as a “visual screen” of the Waste Management Facility next door. We identified these native trees and shrubs: ironwood (native to the Channel Islands), coast live oak, buckeye, toyon, juniper, mallow, holly leaf cherry, and redbud.

Native trees planted at Oyster Bay, May 2018

Ground around trees is green with dye used when herbicide is sprayed. Oyster Bay, May 2018

We also saw a notice of herbicide application near the trees. The ground around the trees was covered in green dye, which is added to herbicide when it is sprayed so that the applicator can tell what is done. There were men dressed in white hazard suits, driving park district trucks, apparently getting ready to continue the application of herbicides.

Will the trees survive this poisoning of the soil all around them? There are many examples of trees being killed by spraying herbicides under them. Herbicides are often mobile in the soil. Herbicides damage the soil by killing beneficial microbes and mycorrhizal fungi that facilitate the movement of water and nutrients from the soil to the tree roots.

Herbicide sprayed around newly planted trees. Oyster Bay May 2018

NOT A FUN DAY AT THE PARK

It wasn’t a fun day at the park and it isn’t fun to write about it. I decided to tell you about this visit after reading the most recent edition of the Journal of the California Native Plant Society, Fremontia (Vol. 46 No. 1). The introductory article of this “Special Issue on Urban Wildlands” is illustrated with a photo of Oyster Bay. I nearly choked on this statement in that article: “In order to control invasive plants, agencies and volunteers have sometimes resorted to using herbicides as a step in integrated pest control. While use of herbicides is contentious, the use for spot treatments has enabled small groups of volunteers to successfully eliminate invasive weeds in some areas where future herbicide use will not be needed.”

That is a PATENTLY FALSE statement. The California Invasive Plant Council conducted a survey of land managers in 2014. Ninety-four percent of land managers reported using herbicides to control plants they consider “invasive.” Sixty-two percent reported using herbicides frequently. The park district’s most recent IPM report for 2017 corroborates the use of herbicides to eradicate plants they consider “invasive.” The park district report also makes it clear that they have been spraying herbicide for a very long time. For example, they have been spraying non-native spartina marsh grass (in the bay and along creeks) with imazapyr for 15 years!

Attempting to eradicate non-native plants is NOT a short-term project. It is a forever commitment to using herbicides…LOTS of herbicide. To claim otherwise is to mislead, unless you are completely ignorant of what is actually being done.

YOU ARE PAYING FOR THIS

Another reason why I am publishing this article is to inform you that you are paying for these projects. The park district recently published a list of 492 active park improvement projects in 2018 (scroll down to page 71), many of which are native plant “restorations.” The majority of them are being paid for with grants of public money from federal, State, and local agencies as well as a few parcel taxes. Taxpayers had the opportunity to vote for the parcel taxes. They will have the opportunity to vote for new sources of funding for these projects:

  • Proposition 68 will provide $4.1 BILLION dollars for “park and water” improvements. It will be on your ballot on June 5, 2018. Roughly a third of the money will be allocated for “protection of natural habitats.” (1) Although the project at Oyster Bay does not look “natural” to us, that’s how the park district and other public agencies categorize these projects that (attempt to) convert non-native vegetation to native vegetation.
  • Measure CC renewal will be on the ballot in Alameda and Contra Costa counties on November 6, 2018. The park district has made a commitment to allocate 40% of the available funding to “natural resource projects.” Although the anticipated revenue (about $50 million) seems small, it is used as leverage to apply for big State grants, which require cost-sharing funding. Measure CC is essentially seed money for the much bigger federal and State funding sources.

I would like to vote for both of these measures because our parks are very important to me. If voting for these measures would actually improve the parks, I would do so. But that’s not what I see happening in our parks. What I see is a lot of damage: tree stumps, piles of wood chips, dead vegetation killed by herbicides, herbicide application notices, signs telling me not to step on fragile plants, etc.

Stay out of Oyster Bay to avoid unnecessary exposure to herbicides and keep your dogs out of Oyster Bay for the same reason. Unfortunately wildlife doesn’t have that option. They live there. Oyster Bay, May 2018


  1. “States big bond for little projects,” SF Chronicle, May 5, 2018

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.