Native Plant “Restorations” Continue to Use Toxic Herbicides

We have long opposed the use of toxic pesticides in our parks and watersheds. The article below, published in Death of a Million Trees, illustrates some of the issues. It’s republished here with permission and minor changes.

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

Garlon, Aquamaster, Milestone on Mt Davidson. March 2018

 

DIGGING IN: NATIVISTS AGGRESSIVELY DEFEND THEIR USE OF HERBICIDES

The trial of DeWayne Johnson vs. Monsanto began early in July.  This is the first trial of about 4,000 lawsuits against Monsanto for “product liability.”  Mr. Johnson is dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  He believes that the glyphosate that he sprayed as an employee of the Benicia School District from 2012 to 2015 has caused his terminal cancer.  His lawyer will present evidence at the trial that Monsanto knew the health risks of the glyphosate they manufactured and hid that information from the public. 

This trial could be the turning point that will determine the future of glyphosate in America.  Therefore, this is a suitable opportunity to explain how we got here and why the fate of glyphosate may also determine the fate of the native plant movement.


Update August 10, 2018:  BREAKING NEWS!!!

”A San Francisco jury has found in favor of a school groundskeeper dying of cancer whose lawyers argued that a weed killer made by the agribusiness giant Monsanto likely caused his disease.

“Dewayne Johnson was awarded nearly $290 million in punitive damages and another $39 million in compensatory damages.

“Johnson’s lawsuit against Monsanto was the first case to go to trial in a string of legal complaints alleging the glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“He sprayed Roundup and another Monsanto product, Ranger Pro, as part of his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, his attorneys have said.

“He was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2014, when he was 42.

“Monsanto, for its part, vehemently denies a link between Roundup and cancer.

“But jurors at San Francisco’s Superior Court of California, who deliberated for three days, found that the corporation failed to warn Johnson and other consumers about the risks posed by its weed-killing products.

“The outcome of the trial will not have a direct affect on the slew of other Roundup-related suits in state and federal courts. But it could serve as a bellwether for other cases in the queue.”  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/jury-orders-monsanto-pay-290m-roundup-trial-n899811

This could be the beginning of the end for glyphosate.  There will be many appeals of this decision, but there are also many other lawsuits in line by people who believe they were harmed by glyphosate.  This is a significant step forward.


THE STORY BEGINS

I have followed the native plant movement in California for over 20 years.  I knew that herbicides were used by land managers to eradicate plants they consider “invasive” only because I made the effort to inform myself of what they were doing.  It wasn’t easy to figure out that they were using herbicides because many land managers do not post notices of their pesticide applications and even fewer report their pesticide use to the public.  State law does not require posting of pesticide application notices if the manufacturer claims that the product dries within 24 hours, which exempts most of the herbicides used by land managers, including glyphosate (Roundup) and triclopyr (Garlon).

Pesticide use by land managers in California. Source California Invasive Plant Council

I didn’t know how extensive herbicide use is on our public lands until the California Invasive Plant Council conducted a survey in 2014 of 100 land managers about the methods they were using to kill “invasive” plants. Here’s what we learned from that survey:

  • Ninety-four percent of land managers are using herbicides to control plants they consider “invasive.”  Sixty-two percent are using herbicides frequently.
  • Ninety-nine percent of the land managers who use herbicides, use glyphosate products. Seventy-four percent use Garlon, which is one of the most hazardous herbicides available on the market.  The Pesticide Research Institute says that Garlon “poses reproductive and developmental risks to female applicators.”
  • Foliar spray is the method used most frequently by land managers to apply herbicides.  This method of application has the potential to drift into non-target areas and kill non-target plants.

CHAPTER TWO: THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION TAKES A POSITION

In 2015, one year after the Cal-IPC survey was done, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.”  That decision suddenly and radically altered the playing field for the use of glyphosate, which is the most heavily used of all herbicides.

Since that decision was made, 25 countries have issued outright bans on glyphosate, imposed restrictions or have issued statements of intention to ban or restrict glyphosate-based herbicides, including Roundup.  Countless US states and cities have also adopted such restrictions. Locally, the Marin Municipal Water District made a commitment to not using pesticides—including glyphosate—in 2015.  MMWD had stopped using pesticides in 2005 in response to the public’s objections, but engaged in a long process of evaluating the risk of continuing use that resulted in a permanent ban in 2015.

CHAPTER THREE: NATIVISTS DIG IN

The reaction of native plant advocates to this bad news of the dangers of glyphosate has been to dig in and aggressively defend their use of herbicides.

One of the first indications of this reaction was an article about the IARC decision in the Fall 2015 newsletter of the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) that concludes:  “In the final analysis, this means that there’s no good reason to stop using glyphosate whether it’s a carcinogen or not.”  If the IARC decision isn’t a good reason, what is?  If the prospect of cancer isn’t a legitimate reason not to use glyphosate, what is?

In its Fall 2016 newsletter, Cal-IPC stepped up the volume.  The Executive Director’s introductory letter stated the highest priorities for Cal-IPC, including, “the increased need for Cal-IPC to publicly support the appropriate use of herbicides.”

That edition of the Cal-IPC newsletter also includes a review of Tao Orion’s book, Beyond the War on Invasive SpeciesTao Orion is a practicing permaculturalist who shares many of the objectives of native plant advocates. Permaculture is committed to conservation, preservation, and restoration, but practitioners achieve those objectives without using pesticides.  They focus on restoring ecological functions by identifying and correcting the underlying causes of change, such as loss of water resources.

Given Cal-IPC’s commitment to herbicide use, it was unable to find value in Orion’s book.  Much of their criticism seemed unfair.  They said that Orion’s recommendations for using restoration methods such as burning or grazing that don’t require the use of pesticides are preaching to the choir.  They claim that native plant restoration projects are, in fact, doing the same thing.  Yet, the survey Cal-IPC conducted in 2014 says otherwise.  Forty-seven percent of land managers said they “never” use grazing to control “invasive” plants, compared to 94% who said they use pesticides.  Burning was not mentioned by any land manager as a method they use.

The survey and accompanying risk assessment of the herbicides used by those who took the survey was presented at the annual Cal-IPC conference in fall 2014.  It was available on the Cal-IPC website until very recently, when it was scrubbed.  The risk assessment is still available on the website of the Pesticide Research Institute, which conducted that evaluation.

In October 2017, Cal-IPC published a position statement regarding glyphosate, “The Use of Glyphosate for Invasive Plant Management.”  Cal-IPC’s “position on the issue” is:  “Cal-IPC supports the use of glyphosate in invasive plant management as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. When using glyphosate according to the label, with appropriate personal protective equipment and best practices, glyphosate is low-risk for wildlife, applicators and the public.”  Their position is primarily based on their belief that doses of glyphosate used in wildland weed management are too low to be a health hazard.

Several new studies, published after the IARC decision, strengthen the case against glyphosate.  New research suggests that glyphosate is a health hazard at low doses considered “safe” by the EPA.  The Global Glyphosate Study is being conducted by six scientific institutions all over the world. This international consortium of scientific institutions recently published preliminary results of their study: “The results of the short-term pilot study showed that glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) were able to alter certain important biological parameters in rats, mainly relating to sexual development, genotoxicity and the alteration of the intestinal microbiome, at the ‘safe’ level of 1.75 mg/kg/day set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”  In other words, at doses deemed safe by the US EPA, significant negative health effects were found in animals used in testing.

Another recent study of glyphosate found that the formulated product is considerably more toxic than the active ingredient alone.  US National Toxicology Program recently conducted tests on formulated glyphosate products for the first time. In the past, tests were conducted only on the active ingredient…that is glyphosate alone. The formulated products that are actually applied as weed killers contain many other chemicals, some of which are not even known. The head of the National Toxicology Program Laboratory, told The Guardian newspaper the agency’s work is ongoing but its early findings are clear on one key point. “We see the formulations are much more toxic. The formulations were killing the cells. The glyphosate really didn’t do it,” DeVito said. A summary of the NTP analysis said that “glyphosate formulations decreased human cell ‘viability’, disrupting cell membranes. Cell viability was ‘significantly altered’ by the formulations, it stated.”

Two empirical studies found that low levels of exposure to the weed killer Roundup (glyphosate) over a long period of time can cause liver disease.

Is Cal-IPC aware of these recent studies?  Are the people who apply glyphosate aware of these studies?  Are the employers of these applicators aware of these studies?  Are these applicators the plaintiffs of future product liability lawsuits against Monsanto?

CHAPTER FOUR: CALIFORNIA NATIVE PLANT SOCIETY DEFENDS HERBICIDES WITH FANTASIES

If you read the publications of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) or attend their conferences, you know that little mention is made of herbicides by their followers and those who engage in “restoration” projects.  In the past, the best defense was to turn a blind eye to herbicide use.

More recently, the intense opposition to the use of herbicides on public lands seems to have forced CNPS to become actively engaged in the defense of herbicides.  The most recent edition of the Journal of the California Native Plant Society, Fremontia (Vol. 46 No. 1) is a “Special Issue on Urban Wildlands.” The introductory article 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.” Oyster Bay is being doused with herbicides as we reported in a recent article that is available HERE.

Oyster Bay herbicide applications, May 2018

That same edition of Fremontia also includes several articles in which specific native plant “restorations” are described in detail.  All of the projects use herbicides, often repeatedly and often without successfully establishing native plants:

  • “Bull Creek Ecosystem Restoration Project: Not Quite a Success Story”:  This project began in 2008, after over 10 years of planning.  Bull Creek was reconfigured with bull dozers, eliminating the existing landscape.  Although natives were planted, weeds quickly took over the site.  It was weeded by hand initially and considered a success until the creek bank eroded significantly and the artificial oxbow filled with silt.  But “weeds continued to thrive” because the native plants were irrigated and they resorted to herbicide applications in 2010.  Subsequent failures of native plants were blamed on unauthorized public access and the state-wide drought.  Volunteer weeding has been abandoned.  The future of this project is very much in doubt.
  • “Weed Control Efforts in the Sepulveda Basin”: “Based on more than 20 years of experience with attempting to control various weeds in the Sepulveda Basin, and given the lack of support from the city due to budgetary priorities, it is apparent that without herbicide it will be impossible to control non-native weeds that threaten regional biodiversity.”
  • “Nature in the City: Restored Native Habitat Along the LA River…”:  The site was sprayed with Roundup (glyphosate) several times to remove as much of the non-native seed bank as possible.  Weeding continued throughout the habitat restoration and construction period.”

Did CNPS notice the contradiction between their first article and subsequent articles in the same publication?  Their introductory article claims they rarely use herbicides and when they do it is only temporary.  But subsequent articles about specific projects make it clear that herbicides are routinely and repeatedly used and even then, weeds persist.

Pesticides used in San Francisco’s “natural areas.” Courtesy San Francisco Forest Alliance

In the Bay Area, one of the oldest native plant “restorations” is in San Francisco, where the so-called Natural Areas Program (now called Natural Resources Division) started in 1998.  They have used pesticides consistently since the program began.  The San Francisco Forest Alliance began tracking their use of pesticides in 2008.  In their most recent report, the Forest Alliance informs us that pesticide use in the so-called “natural areas” has increased significantly in the first half of 2018.  This increase was anticipated because the program plan and its Environmental Impact Report were finally approved in spring 2017, after 20 years of being hotly contested.  The approval of the program enabled them to increase the staff of pesticide applicators from one to five.  Most of the increase in pesticide use in 2018 is of Garlon, one of the most toxic pesticides available on the market.  San Francisco’s native plant restorations are a specific example of the long term use of large quantities of herbicide.  You can visit those areas to see for yourself that 20 years of effort and herbicides have not successfully established native plant gardens.

GOOD LUCK TO DEWAYNE JOHNSON

It is difficult to understand how nativists can continue to advocate for the use of herbicides.  It is even more difficult to understand how land managers can continue to use public money to spray herbicides on our public parks and open spaces.  Since they are apparently impervious to scientific assessment of the health hazards of herbicides and blind to the failures of their projects, we can only hope that DeWayne Johnson will prevail in his lawsuit against Monsanto.  We would like to see justice for Mr. Johnson and his family and the bonus will be the legal liabilities and associated economic costs of continuing to use a dangerous herbicide that damages the environment and everyone who lives in it.

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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.

 

– END –

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:

——————-

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.

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

Mixed Results for Mission Blue Butterfly in San Francisco: Here’s Why

This article is reprinted with permission from SutroForest.com, a website that has been reporting on the Mission Blue project for some years.

Mission Blue Butterfly - Public Domain Image

Mission Blue Butterfly – Public Domain Image

It’s now Year 9 of the the Mission Blue butterfly project on Twin Peaks, San Francisco. In 2008, SF Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) started trying to reintroduce the Mission Blue Butterfly to Twin Peaks, by planting lupine and transferring in breeding butterflies from their largest existing population on San Bruno Mountain. The results so far have been mixed:

  • The lupine needs continual care;
  • The butterflies are breeding on Twin Peaks;
  • Most years, imports of Mission Blue butterflies from San Bruno continue to be needed to boost the population and its genetic diversity.

In 2017, SFRPD observers spotted 30 butterflies that were actually born on Twin Peaks. They didn’t import any butterflies from San Bruno. But the lupine, the nursery plant of the butterfly, was badly hit by funguses and hungry voles.

WHAT ARE MISSION BLUE BUTTERFLIES?

The Mission Blue butterfly (Aricia icarioides missionensis) is a rare subspecies of the much more widespread Boisduval’s Blue (Aricia icarioides).  The species is not endangered, but the subspecies is found only from San Bruno to Marin and is federally-listed as endangered. The largest population is on San Bruno Mountain.

Lupine is the nursery plant of the Mission Blue. It’s the only plant on which it’s known to lay its eggs and which the caterpillars eat. Mission blue eggs hatch into caterpillars which eat the lupine, shedding their skins as they grow. The larger caterpillars are tended by native ant species, who protect them from predators while benefiting from “honeydew” – sugary caterpillar pee.

Mission Blue larva tended by ant - NPS photograph

Mission Blue caterpillar tended by ant – NPS photograph

When they’ve grown to their full size, they form their pupae near the base of the plants, or even on the soil beneath, and remain there for months (in diapause). They hatch into butterflies in spring, sip nectar from a range of flowers (including the “invasive” non-native Italian thistle: Carduus pycnocephalus), mate, and lay eggs on lupines.

Aricia Icarioides Missionensis, Photo Copyright Joe O’Connor

These butterflies have only one generation a year and an 8-10 week flight season, becoming visible in April and May. The males live an average of 7 days, and females for 8 days. The males usually hatch before the females do, so they are ready to mate when the females appear.

PROJECT ORIGINS

Mission Blue butterflies used to inhabit Twin Peaks in San Francisco, but in 1998 a wet winter encouraged a fungal pathogen that destroyed most of the lupine plants – and the Mission Blue butterfly will not breed on anything else. The population, already small, fell until it was essentially gone. Eventually, SFRPD decided to attempt a reintroduction by planting lupine and then bringing butterflies from San Bruno Mountain.

The first batch, 22 females, was brought over in 2009. Optimistically, they hoped that this would be sufficient. But in 2010, only 17 butterflies were spotted, and imports resumed in 2011 – and in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016. In the graph below (covering the years 2009-2017) the dark bars show the “native-born” butterflies on Twin Peaks – i.e. ones that were spotted before transfers from San Bruno, or in years when there were no transfers. The light bars show the butterflies imported to Twin Peaks.  In 2017,  they’ve spotted 30 native-born butterflies.

 

[We’ve been reporting on this project for years; our most recent report is here: Mission Blue Butterfly 2016 Update: Imports from San Bruno Continue]

A report from SFRPD and its consultants on the year 2016 was issued in April 2017. It said they would not import any in 2017, but if the numbers fall in 2018, they’ll restart. The US Fish and Wildlife permit to transfer up to 20 male and 40 female butterflies each year is valid through 2020. They imported 44 butterflies from San Bruno in 2016: 15 males and 29 females.  You can read the report here: TwinPeaksProgressReportApr2017

According to that report, they were going to stop counting adult butterflies.  They planned instead to count the eggs, and calculate backward to figure how many females were implied by the number of eggs.  However, in 2017 they did in fact count butterflies, and found 15 males and 15 females in April and May.

This is the most of any year since 2009 – and definitely the most females. (However, there’s a bias because for each season we only use observations from before the transfers from San Bruno. But the transfers, too, must be made during the flight season. So in years with transfers, the local observation time is lessened and is biased to males, which emerge earlier than females.)  Despite the improvement, it suggests the population is still small enough that it cannot be considered stable or self-sustaining.

(The graph below is similar to the purple one above, but breaks out the observations – and imports – by the sex of the butterflies. The darker bars show imports, the lighter bars indicate butterflies that were born on Twin Peaks.)

A BRUTAL YEAR FOR LUPINE

It’s been a brutal year for lupine  in 2017 owing to the wet winter. There’s been a population explosion of voles, which have eaten some of the largest plants down to the ground. A fungus has killed many of the lupine plants. (Field notes describe it as anthracnose, but we’re not sure if a positive identification was made.)

In any case, this is never going to be a self-sustaining situation. They will need to keep gardening for lupine, because lupine is a plant of disturbed areas and Twin peaks isn’t disturbed.  As the report points out “unmanaged habitat degrades quickly.”

And while they can set up Mission Blue butterfly populations that are temporarily self-sustaining, in the long term they will still need to boost the population with imports.

A FRIENDLY SUGGESTION FOR LUPINE MANAGEMENT

We have a suggestion. Since lupine will have to be gardened anyway, why not grow it in containers? This should offer some protection from both voles and funguses, and provide the opportunity to optimize the soil conditions including drainage for the plant. SFRPD plants three species of lupine at Twin Peaks: Lupinus albifrons, lupinus varicolor, and lupinus formosus.

The favorite of the Mission Blue caterpillar is apparently Lupinus albifrons, or silver lupine; according to the April 2017 report, that was the only one the caterpillars were eating. And that one grows nicely in containers. The photograph below is from the website of specialist plant supplier Annie’s Annuals, specializing in rare and unusual annual & perennial plants, including cottage garden heirlooms & hard to find California native wildflowers.”

As a bonus, since container-grown plants won’t face competition from other wild plants, SFRPD can stop using toxic herbicides on Twin peaks. In 2016, they used toxic herbicides 25 times on Twin Peaks – behind only the much-larger McLaren Park (27 times) and Bayview Hill (34 times).  This included 7 applications of Garlon, possibly the most toxic herbicide the city permits.

It’s unknown whether these herbicides impact the reproductive success of the butterflies, either directly or via their ant tenders. In any case, organic lupines might be a healthier option.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH GARLON?

These are the main issues with Garlon, in brief:

  • 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.

If SFRPD grew the lupine in containers, it wouldn’t need to worry about the oxalis or use Garlon. At least on Twin Peaks.

COSTS

We are often asked how much the Mission Blue project is costing the tax payer, so we tried to find out. This project is funded by the city, and with a three-year grant from US Fish and Wildlife Services for “habitat management” that just ended.  Data for 2008-2017 indicate the SF Rec and Parks Commission spent around $82,000. We looked at Professional Services payments to Coast Ridge Ecology, to Creekside Center for Earth Sciences, and to Liam O’Brien. There’s another consultant involved, Golden Hour Restoration Institute, but we think they were paid directly from the US FWS grant.

This of course excludes the salaries/ time of the SFRPD staff. Natural Resource Department staff are involved at every stage, from lupine planting to butterfly counting. It also excludes the cost of laying down pesticides on Twin Peaks 25 times annually.

[Note: We also attempted to search for the USFWS grant information, but so far have no numbers.]

Pesticides in our Parks, Jan-March 2017

Herbicide Spraying in Glen Canyon May 2017

Someone recently sent us this picture (above) of herbicide being sprayed at Glen Canyon.

Saw a guy spraying pesticides in Glen Canyon today. I didn’t want to get close enough to read the sign because he’s spraying right now and I’m pregnant.  I’m assuming its one of the same old for the same old reasons.  It’s right near a child’s classroom and right near someone’s backyard.  Somewhat related, did you hear that a coyote in Glen Canyon was killed by rat poison?

Clicking on the picture will bring you to a very short video of the spraying.

In other news, the petition opposing pesticides finally closed with 12,113 signatures!

PESTICIDE USAGE, FIRST QUARTER 2017

We recently received and compiled the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) pesticide usage reports for the first quarter of 2017. There’s good news and bad news.

Bad news first: The first quarter continues to be Garlon time in the Natural Areas, which comprise the areas under the Natural Resources Division of SFRPD and the SFPUC areas that are managed by the same land managers.

In 2017, they applied Garlon 25 times, up from 23 in 2016. The volume applied is nearly the same; on an “active ingredient” calculation, it’s 61.2 fluid ounces in 2017 slightly down from 61.5 fl oz in 2016. Garlon is used only against Bermuda buttercups (oxalis, sourgrass, soursob, oxalis pes caprae).

The main parks where it was applied were Twin Peaks, McLaren Park, and Mt Davidson, though they did use it at other locations too.

This is especially bad news because Garlon is one the most toxic herbicides the city is allowed to use. Ever since we’ve been following it, not only has it been designated Tier I (Most hazardous), there’s been a notation against it: 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 )

Oxalis is not considered terribly invasive. Its brilliant yellow color and early spring flowering make it very visible, but it needs disturbance to spread. If it is ignored, it will over time give way to other plants. In any case, after its explosion of spring color, it dies down and other plants take over. There is considerable doubt about the effectiveness of herbicides on oxalis, because it grows from bulbils (tiny bulbs) that are well protected, and will resprout the following season.

Here’s our quick presentation about Garlon and oxalis: Garlon vs Oxalis in Ten Easy Slides. In summary: San Francisco could get rid of this very toxic “HIGH PRIORITY TO FIND ALTERNATIVE” herbicide merely by calling a truce on its war with oxalis. (Here’s a longer article, with some lovely photographs: Five Reasons why it’s okay to love oxalis and stop poisoning it )

Now for the good news:

  • SFRPD has cut back a lot on its use of Roundup (also called Aquamaster), i.e. Glyphosate. This is the chemical that the WHO declared a probable carcinogen.  In 2017, Natural Areas used it three times, twice at Twin Peaks and once at Laguna Honda.
  • The main user of Glyphosate: Golden Gate Park Nursery, which Chris Geiger (the Integrated Pest Management person at SF Environment) explained is not a public area. They used either 25 fl oz or 40 fl oz of glyphosate (active ingredient basis), depending on whether one of the entries is a duplication. We have a question in about that to SFRPD and SF Environment, and will update this when we have an answer.
  • No Tier I herbicides were used in Glen Canyon from Jan-March 2017. Though Natural Areas elsewhere were sprayed with Garlon for oxalis, none was used in Glen Canyon – where neighbors are concerned because of the many small children who play there, as well as potential water contamination.

CONCERNS

We still have concerns, though we do acknowledge the efforts of SF Environment and SFRPD to control the use of toxic herbicides. We will go into those in detail another time, but here are a few, in brief:

  • Allowing the use of Tier I herbicides even in non-public areas does not prevent them from contaminating the environment.
  • This is especially true now that San Francisco will be adding its own ground water to the public water supply. No one wants pesticides coming from our taps.
  • The Natural Areas already severely restrict access by requiring people to stay on the limited number of “designated trails” – mainly broad paths that have been improved in some cases into stairways and mini-roads. Using Tier I herbicides will give them an incentive to block off much of the park, so it is accessible only to SFRPD staff or volunteers.
  • Instead of eschewing herbicides altogether, new combinations are being considered for addition to the list of permitted pesticides.

San Francisco Forest Alliance’s stance: No Pesticides in our Parks.

We continue to work toward this goal, and support the efforts of SF Environment and thousands of people to get there.

 

 

Can The Public Trust the Pesticide Notices in Our Parks?

2016-11-02_mtd-imazapyr-blackberry-thumbnailOne of the main issues the public has with the use of pesticides in our parks is the lack of transparency. There is no way to know in advance where the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) plans to use pesticides. The only way to track pesticide use by SFRPD is to do as we do – get the monthly pesticide use reports each month and compile them. This is of course after the fact, sometimes as much as a month or two after the fact. Right now, the latest report we have is for August 2016.

THE FIRST EIGHT MONTHS OF 2016

In the first 8 months of 2016, the Natural Areas Program – now rebranded as the Natural Resources Department (NRD), as though they were handing out mineral rights or something – was the most frequent user of the most hazardous herbicides. They made 87% of the applications, and used 72% of the four hazardous herbicides, though they are responsible for a quarter of our San Francisco parks.  (These are all herbicides the San Francisco Department of the Environment classifies as Tier I, Most Hazardous, or Tier II, More Hazardous) The SFRPD has done an excellent job of reducing the use of toxic herbicides in other sections, but the NRD, the former NAP, has not kept up.

  • Of the 95 applications of herbicides, 83 were by the NRD.  This is important to park-goers because the NRD controls major park areas where people recreate and explore with family and pets, and this frequent use increases the probability of an encounter.
  • The NRD also applied 72% of SFRPD’s total use of the four major herbicides: Roundup (glyphosate); Garlon; Imazapyr and Milestone VM. The first two are Tier I and the second two are Tier II.
  • Though NRD has sharply reduced its use of Roundup, it used more of the other three chemicals in 8 months than it did all year in 2015.
  • In addition to the four major herbicides, SFRPD did use Avenger, an organic – though Tier II – herbicide in the Polo fields and the Golden Gate Park nursery. We are not very concerned because this is a safe organic herbicide.
  • Aside from NRD, the most frequent SFRPD user of herbicides was the nursery, which applied herbicides only seven times in eight months. The nursery is not commonly used by the public and pets .
  • This summary excludes Harding Golf Course, because it’s managed under contract by the PGA Tour and is required to maintain tournament-readiness at all times.

INFORMING THE PUBLIC – A RECENT CASE IN MT DAVIDSON

At the site, SFRPD is supposed to post notices three days in advance of herbicide applications. People have complained that the notices are not very visible. We are also finding they are not always accurate.

This notice on Mt Davidson clearly indicated that Imazapyr was to be used against blackberry. It gave dates and times, and said blue dye would be used to show pesticide use. Okay.

2016-11-02_blackberry-imazapyr-mtd

A couple of walkers saw the actual herbicide activity. Here’s the gist of their report:

Herbicides used on Mt. Davidson today, November 2, 2016.

  • Three RPD trucks, two Shelterbelt trucks.

2016-11-02_131027-small

  • Saw 3 notices – two on western slope, one on eastern. All mentioned Imazapyr (Polaris, Stalker) for use on blackberry.

2016-11-02_135834-small

  • Saw an NRD staff person as he pulled up to the top of the mountain in the truck. He said they were daubing (not spraying) cotoneaster and blackberries. The notices didn’t mention cotoneaster.

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

  • Saw another NRD staff person on the western side, just where the vegetation changes from grass/brush to trees. He was cutting down “a nice-looking small (but over 15 feet tall) eucalyptus tree and applying herbicides to the stump.” He said he was protecting 1000 year old biodiversity by cutting the tree to prevent it from shading the “important” plants.

    “He may have cut more trees,” the observers noted, “But we had to leave and didn’t see how many.”  The notices didn’t mention eucalyptus.

So the notices are incomplete, at best. This one didn’t mention cotoneaster, though the NRD employee said it was being targeted. What the observers actually saw was eucalyptus being cut down, also not mentioned. And unless the herbicide being put on the stump was imazapyr – unusual in this application – then the notices  also omitted the actual herbicide used – generally Roundup or Garlon.

Since the notices and the pesticide use reports are the only primary information source, if these are corrupted, then there is actually no accurate record available.