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Josephine County ballot measure would ban commercial and government pesticide use

SELMA — Audrey Moore believes some people are getting the wrong idea about Measure 17-63, which would ban pesticide use in Josephine County by government entities and the timber industry.

"You can still buy a flea collar for your dog," Moore said.

In fact, activities of private citizens will not be affected by the proposal, which Moore acknowledges is a bold effort to wean society from use of harmful chemicals.

The ban would apply only to entities requiring an applicator's license from the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The term pesticide also covers herbicides and fungicides.

"Society is not aware of what we're doing with these chemicals," said Moore, who retired from Southern California to the Selma area in 1998 with husband, Joel. "This stuff has no place in society, with the hazards to children."

In 2011 Moore formed the Freedom From Pesticides Alliance, a grass-roots anti-chemical group based in the Illinois Valley.

She said for evidence of chemical harm, look no further than the mysterious decline of bees, which threatens agriculture — the industry that pesticides were originally developed to help prosper.

"In 1947 we knew bees were in trouble from pesticides. (Pesticides) are designed to kill, and they're doing a very good job of it."

If the measure is approved, governmental entities such as the city of Grants Pass, Josephine County and the Oregon Department of Transportation would be faced with removing weeds without chemicals, as would the timber industry. Schools would be off-limits for spray, too.

Scott Dahlman, executive director of Oregonians for Food & Shelter, a Salem-based agriculture lobby, said no other counties have anything like this in place.

"A simple read of this extreme measure shows it goes far beyond what it purports to do," Dahlman said. "If this passes, you wouldn't be able to spray your house for termites."

True enough — licensed pest control applicators would fall under the rule.

"There are alternatives to pesticides. There is natural pest control," Moore replied. "We'd like to think they'd rather go to the alternative route once they know what we know."

It would mean the end of roadside spraying of weeds, or spraying of clear-cuts to kill competition for new seedlings.

At a recent Grants Pass Rotary Club meeting, Jennifer Phillippi of Rough & Ready Lumber and Perpetua Forests, and Jim Frick of the Southern Oregon Resource Alliance, challenged Moore's bill, saying it would cripple logging operations in the county.

Phillippi said a typical replanting of a clear-cut, up to 120 acres, gets up to three applications of herbicide, including atrazine or Garlon 4 (triclopyr), when trees are young.

“If we didn’t do this? The trees just don’t survive very well,” Phillippi said. “The seedlings have to compete against grass and brush for moisture.”

She said she has photographs showing that the buffers required by the state were working, and that helicopter application is done carefully, low to the ground. Substances called adjuvants are added to make the spray drop straight down, reducing drift.

“We want to do it right, and don’t want to do anything that’s dangerous,” Phillippi said.

Moore said Perpetua’s spraying around Selma, where she lives, was one of the reasons she started the alliance. She and Eron King of Triangle Lake, located in the Coast Range between Eugene and Florence, have attended numerous state meetings, including those of the Oregon Department of Forestry, trying to get chemicals out of logging.

“We’ve been trying our best to work with the system, only to find we have no rights,” Moore said. “Eron is the mother of two children who have atrazine and 2-4D in their urine.”

Moore has arranged a lineup of advocates for Wednesday at the Grants Pass High Performing Arts Center, including Evan G. Vallianatos, author of the book “Poison Spring.”