Pesticides in our Parks – Bernal Hill

The Natural Areas program (now called the Natural Resources Department) regularly uses herbicides in many of our parks. We’ve published pictures before of Glen Canyon and Mt Davidson.

This time, it’s Bernal Hill.

This hill apparently needs herbicides.

So they’re putting Polaris – that’s imazapyr – on the blackberry and cotoneaster.

It takes a five-person team.

[Edited to Add this section about the famous Bernal Hill Blackberry Patch.]

THE FAMOUS BERNAL HILL BLACKBERRY PATCH

Hope they don’t take out the famous Bernal blackberry patch that’s brought so much joy to families.

It’s a thing, and has been for years. Here’s a 2008 article called Bernal Hill Blackberry Bonanza.  And here’s a quote from a 2009 article in the SF Chronicle, indentifying hidden treasures in San Francisco: ‘Bernal Hill Blackberry Patch. “The locals might hate us for sharing this, but there is a huge wild blackberry patch on the north side of Bernal Hill where we forage pounds and pounds of berries every summer for jam-making. So delicious.”‘ And the Bernalwood blog hailed the start of the blackberry season in 2012 in It’s Official: Blackberry Season Under Way in Bernal Heights

SFRPD – people love blackberries, and Bernal has the best crop in the city!

San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for no pesticides in our parks. We also hope that SFRPD will respect public resources that people love.

Pesticides on Blackberry in Fruiting Season

Recently, one of our neighbors was walking on Mt Davidson. It’s the time of the year when the blackberry bushes bear fruit, to the delight of children and the public in general (and not a few animals and birds). She was unpleasantly surprised to find that the bushes were to be sprayed with herbicide.

“It’s the fruiting season!” she noted, wondering if this was legal.

Unfortunately, it is.  In 2016, SF Environment imposed restrictions on spraying blackberry bushes during the fruiting season. But the way the restrictions are written, they apply only to Tier I (“Most Hazardous”) pesticides and not to the Tier II (“More hazardous”) pesticides that the Natural Resources Division (NRD – formerly Natural Areas Program) also uses quite frequently. The NRD commonly uses “the fearsome four” pesticides: Garlon, Roundup, Milestone VM and Polaris (also called Habitat). All of them are toxic in some degree.

The herbicides used in this case are Milestone VM (aminopyralid) and Polaris (Imazapyr). Both are toxic and are classified as “More Hazardous” (Tier II). Imazapyr can damage eyes, and its breakdown product is a neurotoxin, which means it causes nerve damage. Aminopyralid is a newer chemical, but is known to be astonishingly persistent. It’s banned in some places because of that.

 

SF ENVIRONMENT’S PESTICIDE USE RESTRICTIONS

In 2016, the SF Department of the Environment engaged in a lengthy process of trying to improve its restrictions on  some of the most problematic use of pesticides in our parks.

(You can read the entire compliance guidelines here as a PDF. It’s from the SF Environment website. sfe_th_ipm_compliance_checklist – Copy )

Among them, they developed these restrictions:

 Pesticide use

✓ A written recommendation from a licensed Agricultural Pest Control Advisor (PCA) is required for any pesticide use. Departments that do not have PCAs on staff should contact the SF Environment IPM Manager.

✓ Only pesticides on the current SF Reduced Risk Pesticide List may be used. Usage must fall within the “limitations” listed for each product, along with label requirements.

✓ ‘Most hazardous’ (Tier I) herbicides have special limitations:

  • Use is prohibited for purely cosmetic purposes.
  • Use is prohibited within 15 feet of designated paths. If a park map exists, designated paths are those found on the maps. Otherwise, designated paths are those actively maintained by staff.
  • Use is prohibited within 15 feet of schools, preschools, playgrounds, or other areas frequented by children.
  • Use on blackberry bushes is prohibited when fruit are present 
  • If within the City limits, use requires onsite supervision by a licensed person (PCA, QAL/QAC) o No broadcast spraying with a boom is permitted except for golf courses (targeted spraying only)
  • Certain pesticide use is restricted in designated Red-Legged Frog habitat, which includes Golden Gate Park, Lake Merced, and several other areas in San Mateo and Alameda County.

Notification

Posting for pesticide use must be done 3 days before treatment, and remain up for 4 days after treatment, except for least-hazardous (Tier III) products, which require posting only on the day of treatment.

✓ Postings must clearly identify the area to be treated. Signs should be placed at locations most likely to be seen by members of the public using the treated area.

✓ Posting is not required for median strips or rights-of-way when these areas are not intended for public use.

✓ Posting is not required for areas inaccessible to the public. [See our recent article on this: San Francisco Pesticides and Inaccessible Areas]

✓ ‘Most hazardous’ (Tier I) herbicides have special notification requirements:

  • Blue dye must be used, and this must be noted on the posting sign. Blue dye is not required in areas where 1) posting is not required, and 2) staining may occur, such as ornamental stone median strips.
  • When treatment sites that cannot be readily identified by the posting sign alone, a map showing the general location of expected treatment area(s) must be attached to the posting sign.

MORE ACTION REQUIRED

Though the added restrictions in 2016 were a step forward, much more is needed. NRD seems willing to go by the letter of the rules, not the spirit of it. Blackberry should not be treated with persistent herbicides at all, especially not in the fruiting season. It’s going to affect children, wildlife, and anyone who loves picking the berries in season… most parkgoers.

San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for Pesticide-Free Parks – including natural areas.