Conservation Column Apr 2015: Senate Bill 613 Addresses Herbicide Spraying

Debbie Schlenoff                                541.685.0610                             dschlenoff (at) msn.com



The Oregon public is concerned about the harmful effects of spraying herbicides from helicopters, a routine practice in the Oregon timber industry. There have recently been several reports of people, especially rural residents (and their pets), being harmed from exposure after aerial spraying. The current laws insufficiently protect and inform people about aerial sprays, but now some sensible people aim to change that. The Public Health and Water Resources Protection Act (Senate Bill 613) has been introduced in the 2015 Oregon Legislature to address these concerns. The buffer zones protecting our waterways are smaller than in other states. There are no buffers around schools. There is a confusing, difficult-to-access notification system that does not provide specific information about when the chemicals will be sprayed or follow-up information that identifies the chemicals that were actually applied. The bill would improve notification to the public about aerial sprays so people can better act to protect themselves, their families, pets, and food crops; improve public access to records so that residents and their health practitioners know what has been sprayed if they need to seek appropriate treatment; and prohibit aerial application of pesticides on forestlands near residences, schools, waterways used as community water sources, and waterways that support native fish populations.

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In addition to protecting people, better regulation of aerial sprays will help protect fish and wildlife. Recent research (Betts et al. 2013) on intensive forest management in Oregon demonstrated that the abundance of several bird species declined in study areas that used herbicides, with the effect being most pronounced on leaf-gleaning insectivorous birds. Tellingly, the species most negatively affected by herbicide treatments in the study were more likely to have demonstrated population declines across the Pacific Northwest.

Birds may be affected by direct exposure to sprays, as well as by contamination of their food sources and water supply. Sublethal effects accumulate, the several pesticides that are sprayed together may have synergistic effects, and untested “inert” ingredients (such as diesel-fuel carrier, which reduces egg hatchability) can multiply risk to wildlife. Various pesticides have been shown to be skin, eye, and lung irritants, to damage liver and immune function, and to alter behavior. Indirect effects include loss of shelter, greater exposure to predators, reduction in food sources, and increased energy expenditure from carrying food longer distances to hungry nestlings.

The effects may be long lasting, since many herbicides persist in the soil and/or water. Additionally, the soil itself is eroded, nutrients are leached, and the beneficial soil bacteria and mycorrhizae fungi that help plants take up nutrients are harmed. The effects are also more widespread than a map of the sprayed area might indicate because the toxins run off; they find their way into the water, revolatilize, and drift. And of course, releasing toxins from helicopters means off-target spray and drift, exacerbated by the slopes of Oregon’s remaining forests.

The need for any use of herbicides after logging is dubious. Herbicide sprays are not used in federal forests or by several Oregon-based sustainable timber businesses. However, if herbicides are to be used, it is important to have legislation in place that protects people, water, birds, and the environment.

Contact your legislators to let them know you support Senate Bill 613. Or use this Oregon Wild link: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1780/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=17213

You can find more information on the bill at Beyond Toxics: http://www.beyondtoxics.org/work/pesticide-reform/forestry-pesticide-project/public-health-water-resources-protection-act/

Reference: Betts, M. G., J. Verschuyl, J. Giovanini, T. Stokely, and A.J. Kroll. 2013. “Initial Experimental Effects of Intensive Forest Management on Avian Abundance,” Forest Ecology and Management 310:1036–1044.