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Friday Deadline: Defend Oakland's Pesticide Ban!
The City of Oakland is preparing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that threatens to roll back a local law that restricts pesticide use on public lands. The herbicides glyphosate, triclopyr, and imazapyr would be exempted for use in the Oakland hills, as part of a plan to remove large numbers of trees. Public comments on the Draft EIR are DUE FRIDAY, JANUARY 22, 2021 AT 5PM
Defend Oakland's Pesticide Ban!
The City of Oakland restricts the use of pesticides, including herbicides, on public lands. Though the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) ordinance that governs such chemical use has many exemptions that continue to endanger the health of residents, workers, visitors, and wildlife, when it was passed in 1997 it represented a progressive measure, which was fought for by community members with disabling health conditions caused by pesticide poisoning.
Today this ordinance is under attack, threatened with yet another exemption. Instead of expanding the ordinance and finally eliminating herbicide use on median strips throughout the city, parks and open spaces in the Oakland hills may soon also see herbicide applications where they have been illegal for 23 years.
When city officials in 2005 proposed to exempt vegetation management in the hills from the IPM ordinance, both opponents and supporters agreed that no such change should be undertaken without a full environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Nearly 16 years later this process is now underway, and a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been released for public comment.
The EIR proposes that using herbicides to prevent re-sprouting after removing large numbers of trees and other plants from the hills would protect people from wildfires, but on closer examination the proposed vegetation management plan looks more like a native plant restoration project, that targets plants on the basis of origin instead of fire safety.
In 2010 a federal environmental review conducted by FEMA in response to grant applications by the City of Oakland, the East Bay Regional Park District, and UC Berkeley revealed the city's plans as part of a coordinated attempt to deforest the East Bay hills under the guise of fire hazard mitigation.
Indeed, just a few months prior to the IPM exemption proposal, which was actively promoted by the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC), the 2004 Cal-IPC Symposium archived a report of the Trees & Shrubs Working Group on "Dealing with community opposition to weed removal projects", and someone recommended to "use threats of fire danger to help build support for invasive plant removal projects".
It should be noted that Cal-IPC was started as the California Exotic Pest Plant Council (CalEPPC) in 1992 by representatives of various government agencies, environmental nonprofits, and the pesticide industry. Among its founding board members was Dr. Nelroy Jackson, Technical Development Manager for Monsanto, who helped develop glyphosate herbicides for "habitat restoration markets".
The three agencies that appealed to FEMA for hazard mitigation funding targeted close to half a million trees for destruction. They claimed these long established trees that make up most of our forestland are more flammable because they are not native, but ignored native trees with some of the same characteristics. The park district even admitted its goal is to convert forests into "grassland with islands of shrubs", which would be far more flammable than any tree species.
The Oakland-Berkeley Mayors' Task Force that was assembled to research the causes of the 1991 Oakland hills fire in its aftermath, concluded that it was primarily human built structures that were responsible for spreading that fire. Often it was houses that set the trees aflame, not the other way around.
If the goal is to protect us from fire, we must consider the fundamental fact that development of the hills has brought us exquisitely flammable wooden houses, strung together by explosive gas pipes and live electrical wires, like so many fuses ready to ignite the entire East Bay hills. Land ownership and the decision to build ones home in a natural wildfire zone are not a prerogative to deforest our hills.
Living trees do not catch fire easily, and they provide moisture and windbreaks that help prevent the spread of fires. The myth that non-native trees are a particular fire hazard is a nativist restoration fantasy of mostly non-native people of European descent, who believe nature should be frozen in time, hundreds of years ago, and who are willing to kill hundreds of thousands of healthy trees, whose roots and canopies connect a complex ecology of living things also killed in the process.
During the public comment period for the FEMA grants 90% of the 13,000 comments, as well as 65,000 signers of a petition to Oakland, voiced their opposition to these projects, but the agencies kept pushing ahead until most of the projects were stopped when the Hills Conservation Network filed suit.
Every EIR is required to provide multiple alternatives, but they can be very misleading. Often the "No Project Alternative" simply continues whatever problematic practices are already ongoing. In the case of Oakland's EIR, the most misleading is the "Reduced Herbicide Use Alternative", which sounds like herbicide use would be reduced, but this is in relation to another proposal, not to what's going on in reality. In fact, any herbicide use in the proposed areas would be not only an increase, but an introduction, where there is currently no such chemical use at all.
While the East Bay Regional Park District uses Measure FF money to remove trees, UC and Oakland continue to push the same plan over and over again. UC currently has several EIR processes ongoing, that threaten the Hill Campus, as well as other open green spaces like People's Park. All of these entities use herbicides extensively, except for Oakland, unless this Draft EIR is finalized with herbicides included.
In 2005, along with alternatives to pesticide use, activists provided the City of Oakland with toxicology and extensive references to research that clearly showed harm to health and ecology caused by the two herbicides that are proposed for exemption, glyphosate and triclopyr. In anticipation of the likely trajectory of this proposal, toxicology for another herbicide, imazapyr, which has now been added to the proposal in the EIR, was also given to officials.
Even a decade before the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO IARC) classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015, published research showed that glyphosate was associated with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, reproductive harm, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, and respiratory, vision, and other health problems.
Triclopyr was already known to cause difficulty breathing, as well as tremors, and other neurological disruptions. Lab animals suffered increased breast cancer, and kidney, reproductive, and genetic damage.
Imazapyr is corrosive and can cause irreversible eye damage. Quinolinic acid, a breakdown product of imazapyr, is neurotoxic and causes nerve lesions and symptoms similar to Huntington's disease. Lab animals suffered congested lungs, kidneys, livers, and intestines, and an increase in brain, adrenal gland, and thyroid cancers.
All three herbicides have complex ecological impacts. They are very mobile and persistent in soil, have contaminated watersheds, and are toxic to fish. Glyphosate and triclopyr disrupt nutrient uptake in plants by inhibiting the growth of mycorrhizal fungi, and imazapyr disrupts nutrient cycling by slowing down the decomposition of plant material. Glyphosate and triclopyr kill beneficial insects and plants that they and other wildlife depend on for food and shelter. Triclopyr has been shown to disturb behaviors that help frogs avoid predators and decreases the survival of bird nestlings.
Oakland's pesticide ordinance was intended to protect us from the hazards of pesticides. If Oakland exempts parks and open spaces in the hills, it will be yet another access barrier for those of us disabled by chemical injuries. We already can't enjoy park district lands, or the few green spaces UC Berkeley hasn't decimated yet, because of pesticide use there. We all need to be able to go out in what little bit of natural spaces are left, without risking further injury. In addition to the devastating loss of forestlands, this is what's at stake for many of us.
Oakland's 1997 IPM ordinance was a victory against big toxic chemical corporations like Monsanto (now Bayer), Dow, and BASF, the manufacturers of the three herbicides proposed for exemption. It must not be weakened further, but should be strengthened and expanded. Make your voices heard and oppose the needless destruction of trees and reversal of the pesticide ban in the Oakland hills and send your public comments to DEIRfirstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, January 22 at 5pm.
Official documents can be found at: https://www.oaklandca.gov/documents/oakland-vegetation-management-plan-and-draft-environmental-impact-report-documents
For more info see: https://defendeastbayforests.wordpress.com