Big Sur debates the use of herbicides against invasive non-native plants.
Thursday, May 13, 1999
There''s a curious debate raging in Big Sur that pits environmentalist against environmentalist. The argument centers on the best way to control the spread of non-native vegetation like Pampas grass and Cape Ivy from further impacting the indigenous plant life along the coastline.
According to some, the use of herbicides to control the non-natives is worse than the problem itself.
"We knew it was going to be a controversial subject but we picked the safest chemicals and the safest methods possible," says Jeff Kwasny, the Monterey district resource officer for the Los Padres National Forest about the proposal by the Forest Service to use herbicides in some cases.
The Forest Service is proposing the use of Garlon, Round-Up and Rodeo in certain areas with treatable infestations, says Kwasny.
The Monterey County Environmental Health Department says that these herbicides are not very toxic. "If you handle it properly, it should not be a problem," says the Monterey County Director of Environmental Health Walter Wong.
The Californians Against Toxic Substances (C.A.T.S.), an Arcata-based public interest organization, believes there has not been enough research to prove that these herbicides are safe for the environment or the people who come into contact with the sprayed areas.
"What we don''t know about herbicides is what is so bad," says C.A.T.S. Executive Director Patricia Clary, referring to the inert chemicals left behind after the active ingredients disappear.
C.A.T.S. believes that one problem with herbicides is that they indiscriminately poison other parts of the environment. "I have not found an herbicide that is site-specific," says Clary.
The Forest Service says they plan to spray herbicides on only the invasive, non-native plants. "We are proposing to use a backpack sprayer and hand-wand to hit each plant individually," says Kwasny.
The proposal prompted Linda Van Allen, a Big Sur resident of 28 years, to place a petition at local businesses in Big Sur, asking to look into the use of alternatives to herbicides to combat non-native vegetation in the Los Padres National Forest. "I started the petition to raise the subject and get awareness going," says Van Allen, who has been sending the petitions to Bruce Emmens, the Monterey district ranger for the Los Padres National Forest. "They want to spray at Pfeiffer Beach and I am concerned about the kids and animals."
There are some individuals who have tampered with the petitions, causing Van Allen to move the petitions to Monterey businesses like Whole Foods and Cornucopia. "A monkey-wrench gang has taken the petitions out, put them in a drawer or written profanity on them," she says.
Though Van Allen says she has sent in petitions with 150 to 200 signatures to the Forest Service, there are others in the Big Sur community who support the use of herbicides for the elimination of non-native vegetation.
Locals who support the use of herbicides say that sometimes herbicides are the only effective solution.
"The threat of exotic plants has gotten more serious and a lot of the newer herbicides are a lot safer than the older stuff," says Jeff Norman, a Big Sur resident for almost 30 years and a member of the Big Sur Weed Management Task Force, an organization composed of local entities and government agencies formed four years ago to contain the spread of non-native vegetation in Big Sur.
Van Allen says the Forest Service could use methods like burning and pulling to deal with the non-native infestation rather than using herbicides.
But Norman says that in some cases alternative methods like removing the plants by hand are not effective, and in these cases herbicides must be used. "I am leery about chemicals myself but I am more leery about the loss of native habitat," he says.
The Forest Service is using an integrated pest management approach where they consider all methods on a case-by-case basis, says Kwasny. "We are not going to rely solely on herbicides," he says. "For instance, we are going to have a fire crew cut French Broom this summer."
"They (USFS) are being very responsible but they are not responsible if they use herbicides," says Van Allen. "We want to work together even though we have different opinions." cw