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Act Locally: Schooling about pesticides versus pollinators

Pesticides and pollinators were the topic of two recent educational presentations. On Thursday, Sept. 20, Oregon State University Extension at Hanley Farm offered a day-long series of discussions on Integrative Pest Management (IPM). OSU Professor Kaci Buhl, formerly with the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), discussed the science behind the controversial chemical herbicide, glyphosate (used in Roundup, among other products). (See a version of Prof. Buhl’s webinar on the topic at npic.orst.edu/webinars/index.html.)

I wanted to begin this column by responding to concerns Ray Seidler raised regarding the glyphosate-containing herbicide Roundup in his Tidings guest opinion on Aug. 30 (bit.ly/2RvMunR). Undoubtedly, many readers share Seidler’s dismay that Roundup remains on the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s “registered product” list (which means it is approved for conditional use), despite a recent court ruling in favor of a fieldworker who sued the manufacturer after he developed cancer following years of repeated exposure to the herbicide.

The reason the product remained on the list was because of chemical structure of Roundup, many scientists, including some I interviewed for Act Locally, believed Roundup was safer for humans than some other herbicides. However, recent studies show that gut flora respond to glyphosate in a manner similar to non-GMO plants, the implication being that the health of animals with intestinal tracts — from humans down to insects — are put at risk by the product. (See a paper about its impact on bees at bit.ly/2RvDwXF.)

What Buhl and I both found unnecessarily alarmist about Seidler’s letter was his focus on the continuing use of Roundup by some Oregon Public Schools. I checked with the Ashland School District and was assured that Ashland schools do not use any chemical pesticides. Furthermore, as confirmed by ODA’s Rose Katchadoorian, since 2012, Oregon Public Schools have been required by law to manage school grounds using an Integrative Pest Management (IPM) plan. As part of this law, chemical pesticides may be applied only as a measure of last resort; schools in Oregon technically can be prosecuted by the ODA for using pesticides for merely aesthetic reasons.

Schools’ use of pesticides was a topic close to the heart of this week’s other presenter, Kristina Lefever. Now serving as president of Pollinator Project Rogue Valley (www.pollinatorprojectroguevalley.org), as well as being a certified Master Gardener, and a board member of the Eugene-based nonprofit Beyond Toxics (www.beyondtoxics.org), Lefever had previously joined a group of Talent residents who weaned their city off the use of chemical herbicides by hand-weeding school grounds.

On Sept. 22, Lefever spoke before a group of lay gardeners at Ashland’s North Mountain Park. In the context of her discussion on pollinating insects, plants that foster pollinators, and herbicides and insecticides which reduce pollinator populations, I mentioned Katchadoorian’s information regarding Oregon schools’ IPM requirements.

Lefever questioned this, claiming to have heard rumors that the Talent School District had begun using pesticides again.

I checked Talent’s public grounds for signs of pesticide use and called the Phoenix-Talent School District. Jon McCalip, the person in charge of the IPM program, explained that while Phoenix-Talent schools had attempted to exclusively use natural means, these alternative efforts had failed to prevent invasive vegetation at Talent Elementary. Certain weeds had become a serious impediment to student athletic activities. After consulting with experts from OSU Extension, Talent paved the school track (financed largely through a community fundraiser), and applied a broadleaf herbicide (not glyphosate) to the athletic field twice over the summer. McCalip will assess the situation in late fall with the hope that no further chemical herbicide applications will be needed.

As such, Talent’s situation represents an example of how ODA’s “last resort” pesticide policy is meant to be implemented.

As for actions readers can take:

1. Please do not spread rumors without verifying facts.

2. Herbicides and insecticides (both synthetic and organic) can potentially cause harm directly to the person applying the product, as well as to animals and plants in the immediate and extended environment. Read directions on the label of any product — preferably before purchasing. Check whether the product is appropriate for your intended location, and under what weather conditions it can be safely applied. Please only apply any chemical in accordance with approved guidelines.

To learn which pesticides are approved by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, go to bit.ly/2RwMvrK.

To learn more about which pesticides are harmful to pollinators, visit The Pollination Place, 107 W. First St. Phoenix (open noon to 5 p.m, Tuesday through Friday; call 458-214-0508 or email pollinatorprojectroguevalley@gmail.com), or go to NPIC’s website (npic.orst.edu) or call 800-858-7378.

Readers can see a repeat of Lefever’s presentation at the Rogue Community College Medford Campus on Nov. 3 as part of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association’s annual Winter’s Dreams/Summer Gardens Symposium (jacksoncountymga.org/winter-dreams-summer-gardens-symposium).

3. Add flowering plants that foster pollinating insects to your garden or your deck. For more ideas, readers can visit demonstration gardens at OSU Extension (1053 Hanley Road, Central Point) or North Mountain Park (620 North Mountain Ave., Ashland).

Ashland resident, author and anthropologist Nina Egert has been a lay environmentalist since the early 1970s. Act Locally appears the first and third Mondays of the month in the Tidings.

Photo by Nina EgertIntegrative pest management is used at a pollinator garden at Talent skate park.