Herbicides: Environmental Impact

Many organizations are using herbicides as a part of their vegetation management practices. Herbicide is plant poison and is commonly applied to combat invasive species or unwanted vegetation in areas like concrete channels, roads, levees, and fire breaks. Organizations must comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations and all application instructions on the product label but the approved chemicals have an impact beyond their reported toxicity to plants and wildlife. Plants are the basis of our ecosystem, without them insects can not eat, or reproduce; birds and mammals have no seeds or insects to eat and no places to nest; predators and prey have no cover or habitat.

In disturbed urban environments, invasive(non-native) plant species frequently make up the majority of the plant life. Some of these invasive plants have been included in our ecosystem for over 200 years. Many of our native species have adapted to these exotic plants and now use them for food, shelter, and reproduction. For example, the American Gold Finch eats the seeds of invasive grasses; the Grey Fox travels through dense networks of vegetation to remain hidden; and the Acmon Bule butterfly lays its eggs on invasive Mallow,  the caterpillars eat the plant, and build their chrysalis at the base of the plant.

What happens when the majority of the plants in an area are targeted by herbicide applicators? The ecosystem begins to break down which results in a decline in the wildlife population and diversity of the affected area. Herbicide also increases competition between species as wildlife moves from their poisoned environment into new territory. Long term, herbicides negatively affect the population of all life on earth. Millions of gallons of herbicide are sprayed on earth each year, continually stunting plant germination cycles, insect populations, and the entire circle of life.

Since August of 2011 I have been working with Shani Kleinhaus of Santa Clara Valley Audubon and Leslee Hamilton of Guadalupe River Park Conservancy on changing the mind set of Santa Clara Valley Water District(SCVWD) Vegetation management practices. We have met with board members and staff,  both indoors and out in the field, to discuss their herbicide program and urge them to reduce and eventually cease their use of herbicides. We are currently making gain in our efforts. Recently the Environmental Committee of SCVWD requested the Vegetation Management Unit to give a report(see 2nd link below) on the district’s herbicide use. In August 2012, the SCVWD Vegetation Management Unit reported a 47% decrease in herbicide usage from the year 2011 to 2012, SCVWD has used 2884.19 Gallons of herbicide this year. The district board urged the unit to keep decreasing the amount of herbicide each year but our awareness efforts wont cease until they have written a policy for reduction of herbicides. Its crucial to inform organizations that spray herbicides on the environmental side effects that occur when man made poison meets nature. See documents below for my Before and After study of an area SCVWD sprayed with herbicide and the document the water district prepared in response to our inquires.

View my research on how herbicides affect our river ecosystemsUpdated SCVWD Herbicide Spraying Coleman Ave August 2011

View Santa Clara Valley Water Districts Synopsis on their Vegetation Management PracticesSCVWD Vegetation Management Summary 2011-2012

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