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

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

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

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

POURING ON THE GARLON

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

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

 

ROUNDUP USE RISING AGAIN

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

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

OTHER PESTICIDES ALSO RISING

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

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

 

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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

Roundup: Probably Carcinogenic, and What Else?

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

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

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

Garlon, Aquamaster, Milestone on Mt Davidson. March 2018

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

VERY LIKELY AN ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR

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

Hormone disruption diagram - Source: NIH

Hormone disruption – Source: NIH

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

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

BIRTH DEFECTS IN VERTEBRATES

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

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

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

Heart-breaking Birth Defects

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

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

INTERFERING WITH REPRODUCTION

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

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

DISRUPTION OF GUT BACTERIA

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

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

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

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

BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND MOST LIVING THINGS

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

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

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

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

WHO’S USING GLYPHOSATE?

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

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

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

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

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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Report on San Francisco Pesticides Meeting – Next is Jan 11, 2016

On January 11th, 2016  the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFDoE) will hold its Policy Committee meeting , to review the rules about which pesticides may be used on city-owned properties (the “reduced risk” list). If pesticide use in our public parks worries you, this will be an opportunity to comment. The meeting is in in City Hall room 421, at 5 p.m. on January 11th 2016.

Spraying pesticides in Glen Canyon March 2013

We think the SF DoE has been attempting to reduce pesticide use. Nevertheless, we still have concerns, which we addressed in a series of recent articles (click on the titles to read the articles).

parent and child with oxalisTHE NATURAL AREAS PROBLEM

SF Recreation and Parks Department continues to use hazardous pesticides such as Roundup (glyphosate), Garlon (triclopyr), Stalker (imazapyr) and Milestone (amino-pyralid) – especially in areas managed by the Natural Areas Program (NAP). These are all Tier II (More Hazardous) or Tier I (Most Hazardous) pesticides. NAP is the most frequent user of Garlon, primarily against yellow oxalis.

The proposed new guidelines will still permit Natural Areas to use Tier I pesticides.

In a discussion papers for the  meeting, Natural Areas are given the highest priority for toxic pesticide use – on par with airports, golf courses, and inaccessible roadway medians. You can see that document here: justifying toxic herbicide use 2016.

dog and frisbeeThe argument is that its risk is low:  “for public due to inaccessibility, dispersal of treatments; low for environment due to dispersed treatments.” This is not true: The Natural Areas are widely used by joggers, hikers, and families with children and pets. Many dog-play areas are in natural areas. And many areas are repeatedly sprayed. Regular users of the parks see pesticide notices quite often. And much of the spraying is on slopes where the pesticides can contaminate watersheds and communities. Many of them are both persistent and mobile in the soil.

REPORT ON EARLIER MEETING IN DECEMBER 2015

The January 11 meeting is the second of three annual meetings. The first, held on December 16th, 2015, was a hearing to get public comment. Nearly everyone opposed to the use of Tier I and even Tier II pesticides in our parks. (The only exception was Jake Sigg, considered the doyen of the native plant movement in San Francisco, who wanted fewer restrictions. Of which more later.)

The meeting ran two and a half hours. An audio recording of the meeting is HERE.

SF DoE made a presentation showing that pesticide use had dropped sharply since 1992, when Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was first implemented. They admitted that their early data may not be complete or accurate, and recent data is much better.

Other points:

  • Roundup has been changed to a Tier I (Most Hazardous) rating from  Tier II (More Hazardous).
  • They’re reducing Roundup amounts per application by changing to a new type of sprayer nozzle that gives better coverage and more targeting.
  • SFRPD is working to reduce usage of Garlon, routinely used by the Natural Areas Program against oxalis, (the pretty yellow flower that children love to nibble). (It’s even more toxic than Roundup.) They noted that a new surfactant should allow them to use less Garlon, and anyway, there was now less oxalis to fight. [However, the very next day, Mount Davidson was being sprayed with Garlon for oxalis.]
  • SF DoE is no longer permitting any use of neonicotinoids (“Neo-nics”), a kind of pesticide that is dangerous to bees and possibly other insect life.
  • No pesticide use within 15 feet of paths, except for poison oak and hazardous trees.
  • No Tier I pesticide for strictly cosmetic use, or on playgrounds.
  • Spikes in pesticide usages (e.g. SF RPD’s spike in 2013) are related to golf tournaments. SF DoE is working to reduce Harding Park’s usage of pesticides. [Harding Park Golf Course, managed under contract by the PGA Tour, uses a lot of pesticide to stay “tournament ready.”]

PUBLIC COMMENT AT THE DECEMBER 2015 HEARING

There was extensive public comment at the hearing. The main themes:

 1) Tier I pesticides should not be used in public parks.  “I would feel safer for myself, my children, my pets if we just didn’t use pesticides,” said one speaker. Many of the speakers also felt Tier II pesticides should be prohibited as well. Said another: “Quit using my tax dollars to poison me and my pets.” Another speaker, who is a long-term resident of the city and an African-American community activist talked about the health hazards of pesticide use and said, “San Francisco is better than this. We’re not living up to what we have been, what we are.” A speaker who is HIV-positive and has a beautiful golden retriever service dog, said, “I worry about my health and my dog’s health. I live down in Mission Bay, where they spray Aquamaster all the time. Monsanto’s own website says dogs should not be allowed in contact with glyphosate.” Another speaker attributed her dog’s death to Roundup.

Only one speaker favored more pesticide. Jake Sigg, trivializing the risks of pesticides in pursuit of open grasslands, said: “I wish I’d brought pictures of San Bruno Mountain where they sprayed whole mountainsides of oxalis.”  He favored fewer restrictions on their use: “I hate to hear all this unwarranted fear about herbicides. I was a gardener all my life, and I’ve used herbicides and I’m 88 now. I’ve used a lot of them, and it would seem if they’re really that bad I would have problems now! Requiring gardeners to wear Tyvek suits sends the wrong message, it’s like you’re applying some dangerous chemical. Most of these herbicides are not that dangerous.” 

Natural Areas Program pesticide notice2) Better notices are needed. Pesticide applications should be prominently noted both before and after pesticides use. However, the notices are on trails or on the perimeter of the park, making it impossible to know where exactly they have been applied.  Other times, the notices are inconspicuous. One commenter – who is an HIV survivor and regularly walks in parks with his service dog, a golden retriever – said he only realized pesticides were being used when he actually saw workers spraying. The notice was inconspicuously posted on a pole that bore dog-control notices.

3) Which plants are of value to the community? The new guidelines provide for pesticide use to kill plants that threaten plants “of value to the community.” This seemed to imply native plants under the Natural Areas Program. But many non-native plants like blackberry and oxalis are valued by the community while many native plant are not. How can the SF DoE accept claims from native plant advocates that their preferences override others’ values? “What is the community and who decides?” asked one speaker.

4) Enforcement: What are the repercussions for abusing or violating guidelines? Commenters were skeptical about monitoring or enforcement.  There were apparently no consequences for violating pesticide use guidelines. One speaker said she was told that pesticide use in Natural Areas was limited spot application – but then she saw recent video of a worker spraying blackberry bushes along a wide area of trail. Another reported seeing pesticide spraying along the banks of Mission Creek and in parks where young children practice soccer. “Nothing is going to change with new guidelines – 20 different land managers will apply it different. How can you stop someone from misusing the guidelines? What are the repercussions when there’s abuse?”

Some of the other  comments:

  • The 15-foot rule is not enough. No one knows what a designated trail is – parks are full of social trails that people use all the time.  Also people do not stay on trails – they explore, especially kids.
  • The playground rule isn’t enough. What’s the difference between a playground and a park when kids play in both places? And we want kids to play outdoors in the parks.
  • SFRPD is not credible about environmental responsibilities. For example, the Natural Areas Program is in full swing despite EIR not yet certified.
  • Anti-tree bias. When the PUC asked for an exemption to treat eucalyptus trees with a chemical (Bonide Sucker-Punch) to prevent suckering after a stem was removed because it intruded in the right of way, SF DoE has instead asked PUC to remove the entire tree and then treat the stump with toxic herbicides to poison its root system. “Why is SF DoE encouraging the complete destruction of eucalyptus trees when only some of their branches are in the way?
  • SF DoE and the IPM program has done a good job reducing rodenticide use, and thus the poisoning of predators who feed on poisoned rodents.  When rat poison must be used for human safety, procedures should be in place to collect the poisoned rodents.
  • Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides. One speaker said: “Today I went with my child’s nursery school, about thirty 3- and 4-year-olds walking through Glen Canyon, and every single one of those kids was picking sourgrass [oxalis] and eating it.”  What should have been an interaction bringing the children closer to nature instead made her nervous because she was worried about Garlon on the oxalis.
  • People strongly oppose pesticide use. A petition against toxic pesticides in our parks now has over 11,000 signatures. [You can sign it HERE if you have not already done so.]
  • Exemptions for “needed objectives” – e.g. Natural Areas – are the problem. Deploying hundreds of workers is not the solution. We need to change the objectives. While 88-year-old Jake Sigg has not been affected by pesticides, others may be adversely affected depending on age, exposure, and chemical sensitivities. NAP applies Tier I and Tier II pesticides on 36 different species of plants. Natural areas cover over 1000 acres.
  • Because of kikuyu weed in Mission Bay, workers spray pesticides on the banks of Mission Creek, a place with abundant birdlife, and in the park close to paths and play areas. This is a place where 4 year-olds learn soccer.
  • Though it’s stated that pesticides are used as a “last resort” – “Last resort” happens all the time, with over 100 applications. 
  • It’s not just Roundup (glyphosate) which is a problem. Garlon (triclopyr) is even more toxic. Stalker/ Polaris (imazapyr) persists for over a year, and moves around in the soil. Milestone (aminopyralid) is so persistent that if an animal eats it and poops it out, the poop still contains active herbicide. All these herbicides are used by the Natural Areas Program.
  • No exemptions are needed. They should prohibit the use of Tier I and Tier II. Sharp Park doesn’t use herbicides even on poison oak. Medians can be dealt with by closing a lane of traffic.
  • Contractors are allowed to experiment with new chemicals – but this should be done with extreme caution.
  • The land managers should co-ordinate with park users before applying herbicides. In 2010 a Clapper Rail – a federally endangered waterbird [now known as the Ridgeway’s Rail] – showed up in Heron’s Head park. A year later, 2011, mated and produced two chicks that became juveniles. Nine months later, with no discussion with park users or the birding community, imazapyr was sprayed to remove cordgrass – and then the Clapper Rail was gone. [The Million Trees blog did a story about this, HERE ]
  • NAP sprays imazapyr under trees – which would damage them – despite the contrary instructions from the company itself. Either NAP is not obliged to follow company instructions, or they actually want to damage the trees – much like when they girdled thousands of trees in San Francisco.
  • SF DoE must recognize the stories of people here, they’re heart-breaking: The bird that disappeared, the dog that died, the kids that nibble on oxalis.
  • Permaculture and organic solutions are preferable. A apeaker’s ranch property had rattlesnakes – but she brought in feral cats, which ate the rodents, and the rattlesnakes disappeared. She didn’t need traps or poisons.
  • Mount Davidson is worse since since Natural Areas Program took over with pesticide spraying and habitat destruction. Natural Areas should be wild and natural – but NAP is trying to turn them into Native Gardens. The roof of the Cal Academy is a native plant garden – which is irrigated, weeded, replanted. Native Plant gardens are not sustainable without intensive gardening, and the use of poisons.
  • Poisons are sprayed without regard to health of parkgoers, wildlife. Blackberries are being sprayed, though they’re eaten by people and also by wildlife.
  • A few speakers supported the NAP. One said that they supported more wildlife. Jake Sigg said, “People love the Natural Areas Program, they like the open areas for views and kite-flying.” (Of course, if people stay on the designated trails as the NAP wants, they cannot fly kites. People do love the Natural Areas. They just dislike the Natural Areas Program, with its tree-felling and habitat destruction, regular use of toxic herbicides, access restrictions, and use of our tax dollars to do these things.)

THE PROBLEMS OF NATURAL AREAS PROGRAM

NAP is one of the largest users of Tier I pesticides in the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) .

toddler holding oxalisNAP is a regular user of Garlon (triclopyr), a pesticide that is even more toxic than glyphosate (Roundup). It uses it mainly on oxalis, which is both pointless and dangerous. It’s a plant that is very popular with children. As Jill Fehrenbacher pointed out, preschoolers frequently nibble on oxalis for its sour taste.

Kevin Woolen of SFRPD said they would be reducing their use of Garlon using a new surfactant – and that there was less oxalis this year perhaps because of prior years’ spraying. However the very next day, signs on Mount Davidson indicated that Garlon was sprayed on oxalis.

MtD-Garlon Oxalis 1

MtD-Garlon Oxalis 2

It claims to be for “spot treatment” but since oxalis is a spreading ground cover, we do not understand how this is possible.

NAP also uses Roundup (glyphosate) on a wide variety of plants. In fact, in the time we’ve been following the issue, NAP has attacked over 30 different species of “invasive” plants with Tier I and Tier II herbicides.

There’s only one good way to reduce pesticide use: To change the management objectives for which these pesticides are used. There is no reason to kill oxalis with toxic herbicides, or to use Tier I and Tier II herbicides in a futile effort to create native plant gardens.

WHAT ABOUT THE GOLF COURSE?

Whenever we address pesticide use by NAP, someone raises the issue of golf. Only Harding Park routinely uses pesticides. (Other city golf courses use them less than once a year – or not at all.) Harding is not managed by SFRPD, but under contract by the PGA Tour, which requires herbicide use to keep its fairways tournament ready.

We are not as concerned about this as we are about the Natural Areas. Herbicide use is concentrated on the greens, which are not accessible to children or pets.The surrounding vegetation is better habitat, so wildlife use of the fairways is limited. Golfers can choose to play a different course where chemicals are not usual like Sharp Park which uses none at all.

There are concerns, of course, and we appreciate the SF DoE attempts to reduce pesticide use there. The golf course is beside Lake Merced, which could be affected by pesticide runoffs. The lake attracts wildlife, and hosts nesting cormorants and herons. These chemicals could have adverse effects.

2013-05-142 double-crested cormorants nest

CAN SAN FRANCISCO DO BETTER?

Many cities are working on eliminating the use of glyphosate (Roundup) or all synthetic pesticides in their public parks and in some cases, even on private property. Some examples:

  • Encinitas, California has banned Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides in public parks. It has also got its first “organic park” where no pesticides are permitted except organic ones. Ironically, it’s called Glen Park and contrasts with our own Glen Park where a lot of Tier I pesticides have been used.
  • Boulder, CO has stopped using Roundup and is trying to phase out synthetic pesticides.
    Portland, Maine: “Portland officials are talking about passing an ordinance that would further limit or ban the city’s use of pesticides and possibly extend it to private use.”
  • Takoma Park (suburb of Washington DC): “While a handful of cities in the country have banned certain pesticides for use on public lands, Takoma Park’s City Council charted new territory by restricting what residents can use on their own lawns.”
  • Rotterdam, Nederlands: Dutch City of Rotterdam Bans Monsanto Glyphosate Roundup Herbicide
  • Menlo Park, 4 parks: Menlo Park: City bans spraying of herbicides in four parks
  • Fairfax, CA:  Fairfax law forbids property owners from spraying herbicides and pesticides unless they first notify their neighbors. And Belvedere doesn’t spray herbicides in its public park.
  • Barcelona, Spain: Barcelona bans glyphosate in public parks

kid and pesticides2

People are becoming much more conscious of the risk of pesticides, to adults but even more to children. From an article that dates back to 2001: “Dr. William Rothman of Belvedere, a retired physician, has voiced concerns about the effects on children of popular herbicides such as Roundup, the world’s most popular weed-killer. ‘Children crawl on the ground and put things in their mouth. They’re exposed to more pesticides than adults,’  Rothman said. ‘They have fewer cells in their body, so if they’re exposed to a toxic chemical, they have a greater concentration of it in their bodies. Their cells are growing, so their cells tend to divide more. The cells that multiply more quickly in the body are more susceptible to toxins.'”

There is, in fact, a Roundup cancer lawyer…. “The Schmidt Firm, PLLC is currently [in November 2015] accepting Roundup induced injury cases in all 50 states.”

OUR CALL: NO PESTICIDES IN OUR PARKS

The San Francisco Forest Alliance calls on the city to ban synthetic pesticides in public parks – and especially in Natural Areas, which are places where families recreate, people hike or bike or explore and harvest wild berries and foods, and wildlife abounds. Our parks are no place for pesticides.

glen canyon glyphosate imazapyr 2012 barack doggie

Truck-size Loopholes in San Francisco’s Pesticide Plan

If you oppose the use of toxic herbicides in our parks, you may wish to attend a San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFDoE) hearing on  Wednesday, December 16, 2015, 4:30-7:00 pm in the Downstairs Conference Room, 1455 Market St. (near 11th St.; Van Ness MUNI stop)

glen canyon glyphosate imazapyr 2012 barack doggie

Did Roundup Kill this Dog?

SFDoE manages the Integrated Pest Management program, which decides which pesticides may be used on city property.  It classifies the permitted pesticides into three tiers: Tier III is the Least Hazardous; Tier II is More Hazardous; and Tier I, Most Hazardous. It recently reclassified Roundup /Aquamaster (active ingredient glyphosate) as Tier I after the World Health Organization declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen.

SFDoE is going to discuss some new rules restricting Tier I pesticides. We were hopeful, because we believe SFDoE does try to reduce pesticide use, and we thought the recent public outcry  would strengthen their resolve to prohibit pesticides unless public health and safety were affected.

(There’s a good article on the public opposition here: Public Opposition to Pesticide Use in Our Public Parks.)

For the record, and as our supporters already know: San Francisco Forest Alliance stands for No Pesticides in our Parks.

So we were hopeful, in fact, until we read the draft rules. They contain truck-sized loopholes, and will not substantially reduce pesticide exposure for San Francisco’s park-using families, including small children and pets.

SF Draft Restrictions on Tier I Herbicides Nov 2015

(You can download the PDF here: San Francisco Draft Restrictions on Tier I herbicides )

“NATURAL AREAS” GET A FREE PASS TO USE TIER I HERBICIDES

Exception number 11 says that these herbicides may be used on “Invasive species posing a threat to species or ecosystems of value to the community.” Since that’s the entire justification that the SFRPD’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) gives is that it’s using these toxic herbicides on invasive species, they won’t need to change anything they do.

toddler holding oxalisWhat this means: NAP claims large areas of our parks as so-called “natural areas”  – over 1000 acres in 32 parks. It includes most places people like to hike with kids and dogs like Mt Davidson, McLaren Park, Glen Canyon, Bernal Hill, and Pine Lake. They spray Tier I and Tier II herbicides on over 30 different species of plant. Some are close to the ground, like oxalis. Others are bushes, like blackberry, where they don’t stop spraying even in the fruiting season when everyone including kids are eating berries off the bushes.

This video showing glyphosate and imazapyr being sprayed on blackberry was taken on Mt Davidson only a few weeks ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7X4A3JKZVgc

WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?

parent and child with oxalisProposed rule number 4 prohibits use of Tier I pesticides on “the grounds of schools, preschools, or children’s playgrounds.” This is certainly an improvement, but it’s hardly enough. Playgrounds and preschools in particular are often inside parks, and if the parks can use these pesticides, then the children may well be exposed on their way into or out of the area, especially if they stop to hike or play in natural areas. Glen Canyon is an example – a preschool abuts the natural areas, which, as we noted above, gets a free pass. In McLaren Park, much of the park is a natural area, including areas close to playgrounds. (All the colored areas on the map below are claimed by NAP.

mclaren NAP Map 1

LANDSCAPE RENOVATIONS AND OTHER EXCEPTIONS

Another permitted use is in landscape renovations (Exception 10). We presume this applies to such projects as Kezar Stadium and Marina Green, both of which used substantial quantities of Tier I herbicides. It requires the public to be excluded for 4 days after the spraying. However, there’s growing evidence that some of these pesticides are persistent for a lot longer than 4 days.  Again, these are landscapes where our kids and pets play, often for hours at a time.

Two other exceptions also increase risk of exposure: Tier I herbicides may be used on poison oak near paths, and on trees or weeds posing a public safety, public health or fire hazard. Since pretty much any shrubs or trees can be deemed a hazard, this again means that herbicides can be freely used. And as more trees are removed near paths and trails, poison oak thrives in the sunnier areas – and justifies more Tier I herbicides.

In fact, another document for the meeting suggests a more aggressive attitude to trees. If any department wants to use pesticides not on the approved list, it can ask for an exception. The SFPUC wanted an exception for “Bonide Sucker Punch.” The problem, as they set it out was as follows:

When only some of the stems of eucalyptus and acacia of a multi-trunk tree are cut, the response of
the tree is to produce a vigorous re-growth of stump sprouts and suckers. The usual treatment of stumps is to paint the cut surface with a translocating herbicide, such as glyphosate or triclopyr. However this treatment kills the root system of the tree, killing the standing live stems of the tree. These present a hazard if they subsequently fall over. NAA is a synthetic plant hormone that suppresses re-growth  of suckers without killing the roots.

The exception was rejected, with this solution proposed instead – cut down the entire tree, not just the bits that are intruding into the right-of-way! And then paint the stumps with a Tier I herbicide (Roundup or Garlon), which will destroy the entire tree and, if other trees are nearby, potentially damage their roots as well. So instead of a solution that preserved the tree while limiting the damage, SFDoE approved a method that would be much worse.

We also note that in recent months, SFRPD NAP staff have apparently been deployed to apply herbicide on SF PUC property. This suggests that SFPUC is also buying into the destructive NAP approach.

THE ANNUAL PUBLIC HEARING

Each year, SFDoE holds a hearing where they review changes to the list of approved pesticides, listen to the justifications for exceptions during the year, and take comments from the public. It’s usually held in a round table format in City Hall, with free discussion. This year, they will also discuss the new rules. With the recent outcry against pesticide use, they expect a much larger turnout and have changed the venue. Please be prepared with a comment of no more than 2-3 minutes long.

Annual Public Hearing on Pest Management Activities on City Properties  and San Francisco’s Draft 2016 Reduced-Risk Pesticide List

4:30-7:00 pm Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Downstairs Conference Room, 1455 Market St. (near 11th St.; Van Ness MUNI stop)

kid and pesticides2

Signs of Annoyance – Natural Areas Program

Recently, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) spent an estimated half-million dollars on signage, most of which listed various Don’ts (though ironically, they start with “San Francisco Recreation & Parks Welcomes You”). All our parks and open spaces are peppered with them. Many park users, who earlier had no idea that the Natural Areas Program (NAP) was designed to restrict access and usage, are upset. They’ve started “fixing” the signs. Someone sent us these pictures:

Natural Areas Program fixed sign

The sign has been “edited” to warn people of toxic pesticide use and wryly note that most of the park is off-limits except to staff and supervised volunteers.

Of course, we have been talking about toxic pesticides, but here’s a recent picture. Roundup (glyphosate) has been identified as “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization.

Natural Areas Program pesticide notice

Here, it’s been used to destroy (non-native)  fennel, the pleasant-smelling feathery-leaved plant that is, incidentally, the host plant to the Anise Swallowtail, a beautiful butterfly that happens to be native.

Anise swallowtail butterfly breeds on fennel

In fact, as the altered sign below points out, nearly all the plants you see in San Francisco – including the grasslands NAP is ostensibly seeking to protect with its use of herbicides – are non-native. They still add to the beauty of the landscape, the greenery of our parks, and provide habitat for wildlife from insects to birds to mammals. The herbicides do nothing but poison these plants, leaving space for the next most aggressive plant to move in – most likely also non-native.

Fixed sign - whats wrong with Natural Areas Program