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On Wednesday citizens and activist groups voiced stiff opposition to the use of the herbicide Garlon in timberlands in Mendocino county. On Friday the California Department of Pesticide Regulation said it foresees no change in policy.
The Mendocino Forest Council met on Wednesday in an emotionally charged session that was held over from last month to allow more citizen input.
"Please ask yourself," said Sara Fowler of Neighbors Against Herbicides, "what makes the use of forest herbicides worth the known and unknown risks they pose."
Neighbors Against Herbicides has focused on the use of Garlon in Mendocino county but opposes the use of all herbicides.
Dr. Marc Lappe, Director of the Center for Ethics & Toxic Substances, said garlon has low toxicity for mammals. But he said that workers who have used chemicals, such as 2,4-D--also low in toxicity to mammals--"have developed profound neuro-toxicity."
He said he did not know if Garlon had this effect "but it's not been tested for it."
One of the themes of the day was the lack of research into the effects of Garlon. And what testing has been done, said opponents of the use of the chemical, has either been done by DowElanco (formerly Dow Chemical Company) or financed by that company.
A frequently expressed concern was for the safety of the workers, mostly Hispanic, who apply it in "slash and squirt" operations in the woods. Said Judi Bari of Earth First!, "All of these assumptions about the toxicity or lack of toxicity of Garlon are based on the idea that it will be applied according to the safety standards that are set by the industry." But, said Bari, "That's not what's happening in the woods."
While some compelling arguments were made against the use of Garlon, whose parent chemical is triclopyr, the Mendocino Forest Council has no real authority to control its use. The council in fact passed a resolution in 1994 calling for a ban on all herbicide use in Mendocino county forests. No one on the council was able to say if anything had come of that resolution.
Dave Bengston, Mendocino county Agricultural Commissioner, has been pressured by some to ban the use of Garlon in the county. But he asserted at Wednesday's meeting that he has no power to do so, as Garlon is a "non-restricted" herbicide according to DPR classification.
Before the meeting Bengston suggested that such concerns should be addressed to the appropriate agencies, such as the Federal or State Environmental Protection Agencies. He said that he worries more about "hot" pesticides--ones that pose a serious and immediate health hazard to workers if applied incorrectly.
Said DPR spokesperson Veda Federighi on Friday, "We don't see a problem." She said her agency is paying attention to public opinion on Garlon, and in fact sent a representative to the Wednesday meeting in Ukiah, but is not doing any new studies. The DPR is an agency of the California State EPA.
Mendocino County Supervisor Charles Peterson, a member of the Forest Council, said that citizens were asking for three things: A complete ban on the use of herbicides in Mendocino county timberlands. Or if herbicides are going to be used, then some advance notice of application. And some, he said, were asking that herbicide application be part of a timber harvest plan, an idea that Peterson has advocated in the past.
Linda Perkins of Albion said she would like to see a complete ban on pesticides. But calling her self a "realist," Perkins said she couldn't "wave a magic wand in front of this Forest Council and have pesticides go away. I don't think that is going to happen tomorrow."
If the Forest Council decides on a new resolution, it can write state and federal agencies and attempt to influence policy. Given the response to the 1994 resolution--and the State Board of Forestry's negative response to Mendocino County's Forest Practice Act--Perkins' realism may be justified.
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