October 13, 1998

Re: pesticides in forestry and everywhere else

Dear Editors and other interested individuals,

Recently Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC), the new owners of lands formerly in the hands of Louisiana-Pacific (LP), sent notices to neighboring properties in the Navarro Ridge area of MRC's impending use of the herbicide triclopyr (brand named Garlon) on nearby forestland.

The notices sent out were not a requirement of law. I assume they were intended to demonstrate that MRC wished to operate in a different fashion than their predecessors. Unfortunately for MRC, their effort to be more open was not accompanied by an announcement that they were foregoing any future pesticide use, so for many people the gesture had the opposite of its presumed intended effect.

Five individuals have contacted me, as their representative on the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, and requested or demanded that I introduce a resolution, ordinance, or discussion that would lead to a halt in MRC's triclopyr (Garlon) use. With the clear understanding that, as of 10/16/98, I have 80 days remaining in my term (after which I will be replaced by Greg Nelson or David Colfax) and after considerable reflection, I have chosen to write this as my response. I have taken this course of action because I believe it to be the most effective thing I can do.

I want to repeat my often stated position relative to the use of all toxins: "The moment humans disavow themselves of the use of chemically manufactured pesticides and other toxins will be a happy day, and cannot come soon enough for me."

Relative to herbicides in forestry, Mendocino County has been involved in a vehement debate for over twenty years. We passed a voter initiative outlawing the aerial (aircraft) application of phenoxy herbicides (triclopyr is not a phenoxy), which was promptly stymied by the State Legislature (in a record breaking three weeks). Since that time timber and agricultural interests have succeeded in insuring that county government has little or no regulatory authority in this area. In California, all pesticides are governed and regulated by the Department of Pesticide Regulation. Even the Board of Forestry has little power in this area. The County is relegated the task of reporting usages and investigating reported illegal usages.

Numerous Board of Supervisors discussions, letters and resolutions have had little or no effect on state regulations or legislators, and during the remainder of Pete Wilson's term as Governor, that is not going to change.

When community members opposed to the use of herbicides on forestland are discussing this issue there are a few relevant points to keep in mind.

  1. While one industrial forest land owner (MRC) is notifying some neighbors of some spraying, others are not, and it is not required.
  2. Forestland is treated with herbicide once, maybe twice, if at all in any 50 year period.
  3. Agricultural (pear and grape) lands are typically treated 10-35 times every year, and almost always with chemicals "considered" far more dangerous, and usually much closer to humans.

Relative to pears, Mendocino County has 36 growers with 74 plantings on 3,051 acres. In 1995 there were an average of 35 pesticide applications per location with an average of 161 pounds per application per location. Some of the main materials were: Ziram, lime-sulphur, petroleum oil, azinphos-methyl and mineral oil. Azinphos-methyl is extremely toxic while others are "considered" less toxic or non-toxic. Just on pears, 9706 pounds of Azinphos-methyl were applied. Also used on pears were 753 pounds of various forms of 2,4-D and laundry list of others.

Relative to grapes, there are about 272 growers with 496 vineyard locations on approximately 17, 117 acres. In 1995 there were an average of 12-13 applications per location with an average of 66 pounds applied per acre. Major materials included: sulphur, methyl bromide, metam-sodium and potash soap. Methyl bromide is notorious for its acute toxicity, and 48,150 pounds were used on vineyards alone.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation in 1995 Mendocino County Annual pesticide Use Report (Indexed By Chemical) is 26 pages long. It shows that 1,916,028 pounds of pesticides were applied that year. That total figure includes substances used in organic agriculture.

Methyl bromide on vineyards at 48,000 pounds compared to triclopyr (garlon) on forestland at 13,000 pounds, their frequency of application and proximity to humans and their "considered" relative toxicity (methyl bromide is a "registered" chemical compound with strict controls, while triclopyr is sold under names like Remedy and Turflon at your friendly neighborhood drug store and nursery) helps to explain why there is not "a snow ball's chance in hell" of anyone but your's truly supporting a resolution recommending a ban on forestland herbicides at the Board od Supervisors.

I have, instead, focused my energy on supporting the growth of organic agriculture in Mendocino County. Much of our apple acreage, and 25% of our grapes are organic, and the amount is growing. Making organic alternatives available to the public is increasing awareness and demand. The quantities of some od the worst toxins used in Mendocino County is decreasing. I have failed in my efforts to bring a halt to the use of toxins, but I did not expect to succeed.

I could recommend that 5th District Supervisorial candidates Greg Nelson and David Colfax speak out on this issue, let the voting public know what their respective stands are, and how the imagine they would succeed in implementing them. It seems more relevant that these questions be debated by the candidates for State and federal offices, where the power to regulate these substances actually lies.

It has been a pleasure to serve you.


Charles Peterson