From a ridge in Rancho Navarro, we enjoy a small view of the Coast Range. Looking northeast, we see a series of ridges, the nearest runs from Comptche toward Ukiah. The north branch of the north fork of the Navarro River, our local watershed, snakes through the area. Beyond that are distant slopes that feed the Big, Russian, and Eel Rivers. It’s a beautiful, rugged forest terrain.
Recently, in this familiar vista, we witnessed something strange. A large swath of trees all turned brown, quickly and in unison. We called who we thought the owners might be, MRC (Mendocino Redwood Company), and asked if they knew what happened. They did. They were poisoning tanoak.
They call the procedure “hack and squirt,” because they hack into the bark to squirt an herbicide (imazapyr) into the wound. The tree absorbs the toxin and dies. Imazapyr is a non-selective broad-spectrum systemic herbicide, which means it is not particular about what it kills. You can imagine the potential for collateral damage. Europe wisely banned imazapyr back in 2003.
According to the Journal of Pesticide Reform, imazapyr is corrosive to the eyes and can cause irreversible damage to the cornea. But that’s small potatoes compared to its more lethal effects:
“Adverse effects found in laboratory animals after chronic exposure to imazapyr include the following: fluid accumulation in the lungs of female mice, kidney cysts in male mice, abnormal blood formation in the spleen of female rats, an increase in the number of brain and thyroid cancers in male rats, and an increase in the number of tumors and cancers of the adrenal gland in female rats.” Imazapyr has been found to persist in the soil for at least a year, doesn’t politely stay put, but readily moves through soil, and there is documented proof that it has contaminated surface and ground water following both aerial and ground forestry applications (including hack-and-squirt). And imagine the healthful smoke produced when one of these dead zones burns.
The other major problem with imazapyr is its breakdown products. When the chemical is exposed to light, it transforms into quinolinic acid which is irritating to the eyes, the respiratory system, and the skin. It is also a known neurotoxin that can cause nerve lesions and symptoms similar to Huntington’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and psychiatric problems.
How much of this goes on around here? Mendocino Redwood Company owns nearly a quarter million acres: one tenth of all the private land in Mendocino County. According to their website, over the past 13 years (1999-2011) they have unleashed 50,352 pounds of this highly concentrated toxin into our environment. That’s about two tons per year. To kill tanoak. Which could be used for many other things (firewood, lumber, energy). Because they say they can’t afford the alternatives (wouldn’t leaving them alone be cheaper?). Someone has determined that poisoning us is most cost-effective.
The billionaire Fisher family, of San Francisco, are primary owners of MRC. They made their fortune from The Gap clothing business, which also includes Banana Republic, Old Navy, Piperlime, and Athleta. If you any have thoughts about MRC, and the Fishers, poisoning our environment for their profit, give them a buzz: mrc.com or 707-463-5110.
Mike and Elaine Kalantarian
Beyond the Deep End (Navarro)