ASHLAND — City residents who want to use riding lawn mowers to cut down blackberry bushes on creek-side property would have to buy a $907 permit under a proposed city ordinance.

ASHLAND — City residents who want to use riding lawn mowers to cut down blackberry bushes on creek-side property would have to buy a $907 permit under a proposed city ordinance.

The City Council is considering new rules for protecting streams and wetlands within city limits. A proposed ordinance that would create protected buffer zones of up to 50 feet next to streams and wetlands could affect 1,800 tax lots because Ashland is laced with more than 20 streams and as many as 44 wetlands.

Many activities still could go on within the buffer zones without the need for special permits. Maintaining an existing lawn with a push mower or a riding mower, landscaping with native plants and removing invasive vegetation with a push mower or weed-eater would be allowed.

Other activities would be banned outright, including installing a new lawn inside a buffer zone or building a solid wood fence.

Permits would be required for using any equipment that weighs more than 100 pounds, including riding mowers and tractors. Such "type 1" permits would cost $907. Cutting or thinning vegetation to reduce wildfire risk with any equipment weighing more than 100 pounds also would require a $907 permit.

The council also is discussing a requirement that 100 percent of the plants within the half of the buffer zone that is nearest a stream be native vegetation. Non-native plants could make up 50 percent of the vegetation in the half of the buffer zone farthest from the water.

Councilman Greg Lemhouse questioned how residents will determine which of their plants are native, and what percentage of their vegetation is native or non-native.

"Even if this makes sense to some, it's not going to make sense to the general population," he said.

Bill Molnar, Ashland's community development department director, said native plants and trees are beneficial, both for the environment and people. He noted that many native trees withstood the 1997 flood in Ashland and their roots helped stabilize stream banks.

Other issues yet to be resolved include whether to waive permit fees in some cases and whether to allow agricultural uses to continue inside buffer zones. Few crops are native, and farmers often use tractors.

Councilwoman Kate Jackson pointed out that if all plants must be native within the half of a buffer zone nearest a stream, most farming and gardening would be banned in the floodplain.

"Farming traditionally works best in the floodplain. Those are the most fertile soils," she said.

If a flood destroyed a house or building that had already existed inside a buffer zone, that structure could be replaced without a special permit, although a regular building permit would still have to be obtained. However, rebuilding a secondary home or building on the lot would require a special permit.

New building could be allowed within buffers if a person could demonstrate that the stream and wetland buffer ordinance created a hardship, such as making a lot unbuildable.

The city has dropped efforts to regulate pesticide use inside buffers because state law forbids cities from adopting their own laws on pesticides. However, the Parks and Recreation Commission has set a goal of reviewing its internal pesticide policy, including the costs of limiting pesticide use or going pesticide-free, Parks Director Don Robertson said.

Some data suggests pesticides are an inexpensive way to control vegetation. The Portland Parks and Recreation Department did a pilot study on a 5.6-acre park and determined that weed management costs for the park increased nearly tenfold, from $370.92 to $3,621 during a year when no pesticides were used, even though volunteers and others who were not department employees contributed almost 262 hours of work.

The council will take up the topic again on July 21.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.