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

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.

Roundup, Garlon, and Pesticide-Free Parks

New evidence has emerged that Monsanto influenced the Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) to downplay the cancer-causing risk of Roundup. This pesticide, and others that may be even more hazardous, are used in our parks and watersheds. And now, since San Francisco is adding ground water to the Hetch Hetchy water we have been getting, our water may contain traces of these hazardous chemicals.

 

MONSANTO OFFERED TO GHOST-WRITE KEY REPORT SECTIONS ON ROUNDUP

Bloomberg and other news sources show that Monsanto offered to ghost-write sections of the EPA report on glyphosate, and sought the help of an EPA official to kill the reports that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.

We reported earlier that a letter by an EPA employee Dr Marion Copley, written as she was dying, says: “It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer.” She also said it is an endocrine disruptor, and alleged corruption within the EPA.

A California Superior Court judge has ruled that Roundup can be added to the Prop 65 list of known carcinogens, despite Monsanto’s attempts to block such a listing. “State regulators were waiting for the formal ruling before moving forward with the warnings, said Sam Delson, a spokesman for the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.” 

Dr Copley’s letter only used glyphosate (Roundup, Aquamaster) as an example. The letter hinted that other chemicals might have fared similarly – that is, not been properly evaluated because of corporate influence on EPA employees. We the public cannot assume that toxicology tests performed by the companies producing the pesticides or scientists they may pressure are sufficient to prove the chemicals are harmless.

ROUNDUP AND GARLON IN OUR PARKS

Roundup has been used for years by SFRPD and other city entities. Only in  2015 was it designated a Tier I (most hazardous) pesticide. We tracked its use in San Francisco’s Natural Areas from 2008 to 2016. (It’s also used in other parks, and by the PUC, but we have not compiled those data.)

In the bar-graph here, the green section represents Roundup. The Natural Resources Department (NRD) increased its use of Roundup each year from 2009 to 2013, then decreased it in 2014, slightly increased it in 2015, and now has brought it down to below 2010 levels – though not as low as in 2009 or 2010.

The orange section is Garlon, a Tier I (Most Hazardous) herbicide that’s considered even more toxic than Roundup. Garlon is also supposed to be twenty times as toxic to women as to men. (See page 28 of this California Native Plant Society Presentation which discusses best management practices in herbicide use: Law_Johnson 2014 presentation toxicity )

Nowadays, Garlon in San Francisco is used only by the Natural Resources Department against Bermuda buttercups (oxalis).

PROGRESS – AND A NEW PROBLEM ABOUT TO HAPPEN

SF Environment has responded to community concerns (including a petition opposing pesticides in schools and parks that has more than 12,000 signatures) by introducing a list of restrictions on the use of Tier I (but not Tier II) chemicals. (Their Tier system classifies all allowable pesticides as Tier III – Least Hazardous, Tier II – More Hazardous, and Tier I – Most Hazardous.)

Though we believe the restrictions do not go far enough, they are a start. SF Environment has not published the final version, but there is a current draft. We are providing our comments to the Commission for the Environment and to SF Environment in the hope that they will modify the conditions under which use of Tier I herbicides are permitted. (We’ll post about this soon.)

But – starting 2017, SF Environment is going to approve the use of something new: Milestone VM Plus. It’s a mix of Garlon and Milestone VM (aminopyralid). This combination is being approved as a Tier II herbicide. Amino-pyralid is the pesticide so persistent that it lasts for years – and if an animal eats treated vegetation, its droppings become toxic too. It was considered a Tier I pesticide until SF Environment decided to reclassify it as Tier II in 2013. It’s banned in New York and effectively in a number of other states too.

We’ve protested. Here’s our letter:

Dear Commissioners, Director Raphael, and Dr Geiger,

We are dismayed that a new triclopyr-based pesticide is being added to the 2017 pesticide list, and in combination with aminopyralid – and that too as Tier II. This is at a time when we’re working to *remove* triclopyr (as Garlon) from the list. We refer to Milestone VM Plus, which is Aminopyralid, triisopropanolamine salt, 2%; Triclopyr, triethylamine salt, 16%. It’s for injection and for tree stumps. As we understand it, this is a mixture of Garlon 3 and Milestone.

This could be disastrous. Triclopyr is one of the most toxic herbicides still on the list. And Milestone VM (Aminopyralid) is uncannily persistent – it can last for years. If vegetation treated with it is eaten by animals and excreted, the excreta still contains enough herbicide to harm plants. Until 2013, Milestone was considered a Tier I chemical for its persistence – and then changed to Tier II (possibly at the request of the Natural Resources Department, since other SFRPD departments don’t use Milestone VM.)  If Milestone VM Plus is used on trees in a forest or stand of trees, it could weaken adjacent healthy trees through the intergrafted root network, thus destabilizing groups of trees.

We urge you to delete Milestone VM Plus from your restricted list. It’s no better than using Garlon with some added Milestone. If it must be retained, please classify it as Tier I.

Respectfully,
San Francisco Forest Alliance

[Edited to Add: Unfortunately, Milestone VM Plus was approved and classified as Tier II. The 2017 List is given here as a PDF: sfe-th-2017-reduced-risk-pesticide-list ]

HERBICIDES IN OUR WATER?

This year,  San Francisco started adding well water drawn from under the city to our tap water. Roundup or Aquamaster (glyphosate) and other pesticides such as Garlon (triclopyr), Milestone (aminopyralid), and Stalker (imazapyr) – and their breakdown products, some of which may be even more toxic – could well be contaminating our water supply.

Pesticide supporters argue it doesn’t matter, because the amounts are small. But:

  • Herbicides (and other chemicals) could interact in ways that are unpredictable. No one has researched them.
  • There’s no way of knowing how much the cumulative exposure is for any individual. This is particularly a concern for children, whose low body weight and fast growth make them especially vulnerable; and for people with illnesses or chemical sensitivities.
  • Importantly, if they are endocrine disruptors – which means they act like hormones in the human body – tiny amounts can have a disproportionate impact. It’s an exception to the “dose makes the poison” saying. Here’s an article that cites references to studies showing endocrine disruption from glyphosate: Why Low Dose Pesticides are Still Hazards.

PESTICIDE FREE PARKS

We have heard some parents don’t take their children to Glen Canyon any more, owing to pesticide concerns. One of the restrictions that SF Environment will impose is no use of Tier I pesticides in areas frequented by children. (Tier II herbicides will still be allowed.)

While the San Francisco Forest Alliance asks for no pesticides in our parks (and watersheds), San Francisco could make a start by converting parks with children’s play areas to Pesticide-Free Parks. Here’s an example from Seattle.

Opponents of restricting pesticide use in this way might fear that the park looks awful, so we went and had a look. It was a sunny afternoon, and the park was beautiful.


The park was full of kids of all ages, from babies and toddlers to teenagers. One man rocked his tiny pink-clad baby daughter.  Another dad brought his small son to kick a ball around in the grass. School age kids chased each other with squirt-guns. Some families brought their dogs, who are allowed in the park. It must be a relief to know that you can safely take your family to such a park, and not encounter Roundup or Garlon, Stalker or Milestone VM.

The park has a nice playground.

It also had an organic community garden…

… complete with a green roof.

And a rain garden.

And a multilingual welcome sign.

It was a lovely example of the kind of Inclusive Environmentalism that San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for.

Garlon v. Oxalis – in 10 Easy Slides

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Mt Davidson: Toxic Garlon, Felled Trees

On a recent trip to Mount Davidson, a visitor saw that Garlon had been sprayed on oxalis.

The Natural Resources Department (NRD, formerly Natural Areas Program) is the most frequent user of pesticides in San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD).  It applied herbicides on Mt Davidson 8 times in 2016. Other SFRPD units have all but stopped using herbicides.

Notice of Garlon 4 Ultra on Oxalis on Mt Davidson, San Francisco CA

Garlon 4 Ultra on Oxalis on Mt Davidson, San Francisco CA

The Natural Resource Department (NRD, formerly Natural Areas Program or NAP), observed the SF Department of the Environment guideline to use blue dye with its herbicides (so people can see and avoid those areas).

Blue dye indicates Garlon 4 Ultra on Mt Davidson Jan 2017

Blue dye indicates Garlon 4 Ultra on Mt Davidson Jan 2017

Unfortunately, they flouted the SF Environment guideline that says there should be no herbicides used within 15 feet of a trail. “Blue dye is right next to and on the trails…” said the visitor.

(Edited to Add: We subsequently learned that SFRPD got a special exemption to permit them to spray on the trail, and they were supposed to have blocked the trail to visitors.)

Here’s a picture of blue dye on the trail.

Blue dye shows Garlon on the path on Mt Davidson, Jan 2017

Blue dye shows Garlon on the path on Mt Davidson, Jan 2017

Garlon by the trail on Mt Davidson, San Francisco, Jan 2017

Garlon by the trail on Mt Davidson, San Francisco, Jan 2017

GARLON IS VERY TOXIC

The SF Department of the Environment (SF Environment), which is responsible for the Integrated Pest Management guidelines, lists Garlon 4 Ultra as a Tier I chemical, Most Hazardous. Ever since we started following this issue, it’s been on the list with a bold, capitalized statement: HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE.

Garlon is also supposed to be twenty times as toxic to women as to men. (See page 28 of this California Native Plant Society Presentation which discusses best management practices in herbicide use: Law_Johnson 2014 presentation toxicity )

An article on SaveSutro.com, based on a detailed study by the Marin Municipal Water Department, describes some of the issues with Garlon:

  • 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 in dead vegetation for up to two years.

parent and child with oxalisThis highly toxic chemical is used by NRD against oxalis during its flowering season – in winter and spring. On Mount Davidson, they used it in February  and December 2016 as well.

It doesn’t make logical sense. Here’s our article on Five reasons it’s okay to love oxalis and stop poisoning it.

TREES BEING FELLED

Meanwhile, another visitor sent us a series of pictures showing trees being felled at the southwest end of the forest.

tree-noticed-to-be-removed-mt-davidson-jan-2017 tree-x-ed-out-jan-mt-davidson-2017 former-trees-mt-davidson-jan-2017.

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San Francisco Parks and Pesticides, Jan-Oct 2016

2016-11-02_mtd-imazapyr-blackberryOur regular readers may know that we have been following the use of herbicides in our city parks, and particularly in our so-called Natural Areas. Contrary to their name, they are a major user of herbicides. We collect the monthly pesticide use reports under the Sunshine Act, and compile and analyze them.

For the first 10 months of the year:

  • The good news is that the volume of Tier I and Tier II herbicides used in our parks has dropped considerably.
  • The bad news is that it’s dropped less in Natural Areas.

(The “Tier” classification is the SF Department of the Environment – SF Environment – designation for hazard. Tier III is Least Hazardous, Tier II is More Hazardous, and Tier I is Most Hazardous.)

HERBICIDAL FREQUENT FLYERS

The Natural Areas Program, which has rebranded itself the Natural Resources Department (as though it was responsible for leasing out mineral rights) was hands down the most frequent user of herbicides in the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD). It was remarkable. We get the pesticide usage reports in the form of individual reports from around 30 departments within SFRPD. Each month, the vast majority of them said “No Pesticides Used.”

From January through October, SFRPD (excluding Harding Golf Course) used herbicides 126 times. Of those, 107 applications were in Natural Areas. And if we include the NAP-managed areas under SFPUC control (Laguna Honda, Lake Merced), the NAP application number rises to 111 of the 126 applications. NAP made 85% of SFRPD’s herbicide applications.

(These numbers exclude Harding Park golf course, which is under a management contract to the PGA Tour, and thus not under SFRPD control as such. Unlike the other SFRPD golf courses, Harding does use a lot of pesticide. However, it’s mostly in areas where the general public are unaffected.)

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE

After a sharp increase in herbicide use from 2010 through 2013, the Natural Areas Program finally started reducing their volume of herbicide use in 2014. That continued in 2015, and it seems to be on track to continue through 2016. Total usage is finally going back toward 2008 level (but has not yet reached 2009 levels, the lowest since we started tracking NAP’s herbicide use).  NAP’s greatest success has been to reduce Roundup (glyphosate) use. In the first ten months of 2016, it had already increased its use of Garlon (tricyclopir), imazapyr, and Milestone VM (aminopyralid) over 2015 levels. However, they are down from 2013, which was peak pesticide for NAP.

herbicide-use-2008-2016

We’ve had people asking, so why didn’t they do it before? That’s a good question, but at least they are doing it now. However, the sharp rise between 2009 and 2010 shows that it behooves us to be watchful, since there’s a precedent for an unexpected increase.

GARLON FOR SOURGRASS

oxalis and california poppies smIn the first ten months of 2016, NRD (formerly NAP) has already exceeded the amount of Garlon they used in all of 2015. They applied it 19 times, for a total of 95 fl ounces, as compared with 63 fluid ounces used in 13 applications for all of 2015. We expect this number will increase by year end.

The main reason NRD uses Garlon is against oxalis. With very little evidence other than some assertions by Jake Sigg, they insist that oxalis will destroy all other plants in a landscape. Empirical evidence suggests this is not true.

Garlon is a particularly hazardous chemical. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment classifies Garlon 4 Ultra as Tier I: Most Hazardous. It’s been listed as HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND AN ALTERNATIVE (their caps) at least since we started following the issue. It’s also supposed to be twenty times as toxic to women as to men. (See page 28 of this California Native Plant Society Presentation which discusses best management practices in herbicide use: Law_Johnson 2014 presentation toxicity )

The easy way to stop using using this chemical would be for NAP to stop obsessing about oxalis. They are currently the only users of Garlon in our parks. This would be an easy win for NAP and for SFRPD.

The “fearsome four” herbicides that NAP uses are: Garlon and Roundup, currently both Tier I; and imazapyr and Milestone VM, both Tier II. (SF Environment sometimes changes the classification: Milestone was earlier Tier I, because of its astonishing persistence, but is now Tier II; and Roundup was Tier II but has been reclassified as Tier I since the finding that it is a probable carcinogen.)

They are all concerning. Garlon and Roundup are both hazardous to human health, and imazapyr and Milestone are both mobile in the soil, meaning they don’t stay put, as well as very persistent. The frequent use of imazapyr in forested areas is especially problematic, since it can damage tree roots over time even if it’s targeted at something else, like blackberry.

OTHER SFRPD DEPARTMENTS DID BETTER

As we mentioned above, while NAP (or NRD) did reduce herbicide use in 2016, the rest of SFRPD did much better.

After April 2016, when SF Dept of the Environment had some training sessions for SFRPD, the use of herbicides dropped sharply. Between May and October, only two departments of SFRPD used herbicides besides the Natural Areas – the Golden Gate Nursery and the Balboa Sports Complex. Most of those were Tier II, not Tier I herbicides.  One of the Tier II herbicides that the Nursery used is Greenmatch, actually approved for organic gardening use. It’s only classified as Tier II because of a handling risk with the concentrate, but it is harmless to the public once applied.

In the first ten months of 2016, NAP, which controls 1/3 of the parkland in San Francisco, used nearly 2/3 of the Tier 1 herbicides.

nap-herbicide-use-vs-sfrpd-other-jan-oct-2016NAP (or NRD) used 44% of the Roundup used in our parks, 100% of the Garlon, and around 99% of the imazapyr and Milestone VM.

This pattern of frequent use, together with the fact that NAP still applies more herbicides than any comparable parks area, makes for a great deal of public uncertainty. With over 100 applications a year, park users are quite likely to encounter herbicide spraying. Furthermore, as people have started observing and reporting, it’s also becoming apparent that the notices – and possibly the reports – are not always accurate, and that guidelines are not always followed. At the recent hearing, the public expressed concern about herbicides in runoff and ground water. We renew our call to SFRPD to stop using herbicides in Natural Areas altogether.

2016-11-02_mtd-cutting-eucalyptus-herbicide

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San Francisco RPD Map of Responsibility Areas for Pesticides (and Unrecorded Spraying)

If you’ve every wondered – as we have – which section a particular playground or park falls under, this map will help. This also determines who within San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) is responsible for pesticide use in that area. The black stars represent the areas under the Natural Areas Program (NAP). As you see, they’re dotted throughout the city.

Click here for the full-size (readable!) PDF map: PSA & OS Map

sfrpd responsibility map

TOXIC GARLON FOR MEXICAN BERMUDA BUTTERCUPS

Honeybee in oxalis flower

Honeybee in oxalis flower

In other, somewhat related news: We received the pesticide usage reports for January 2016. The Natural Areas Program was the only section using herbicides in January,  all of it Garlon 4 Ultra against oxalis. SFRPD is convinced that oxalis is a Bad Thing. We’re not. See: Five Reasons it’s okay to love oxalis and stop poisoning it.) Neither are others – here’s an article by a San Francisco mother of two young children: Why this City Spends Millions of Dollars to Eradicate Wildflowers.

THE UNRECORDED SPRAYING ON MOUNT DAVIDSON

But remember this video, showing Garlon spraying on Mount Davidson on January 28th, 2016? (It’s a Natural Area.)

Video of Mt Davidson Garlon 4 Ultra spraying on Jan 28 2016

(If you don’t recall seeing it – it’s only a minute and a half.)

That wasn’t included in the usage report. No mention of Mount Davidson at all. The report only mentioned Garlon use on Bayview Hill, Corona Heights, Twin Peaks, and McLaren’s Geneva meadow.

Which of course leads to the question, what else might be missing from the pesticide usage reports?