By Anya McCann
You never think your house will burn down, and there is no imminent threat to it. But most of us buy homeowners insurance. I insure my belongings and suppose I am very unlikely to use it…but just in case?
What makes most sense to me is to be as safe as you can if it is reasonable and not too taxing. This is why I believe in the “precautionary principle” to risk management, and using the “least toxic” methods of integrated pest management. If it is possible to maintain my yard without using pesticides, even if it takes me a little extra weeding, why not do so?
Even if one argues that the pesticides on the market must be safe for humans since the government has approved it for sale, I’m not going to drink it, or let my cat roll in it, or let my children play tag on it. Why take a chance?
Even if “when used correctly” it might be tolerable to have it applied around places highly populated with humans and animals, why would I want pesticides around?
The City of Davis currently manages 1,616 acres of land that may be subject to pesticide application. This acreage is divided into six major management areas including 1) parks, greenbelts, and streetscapes (487 acres), 2) open space (519 acres), 3) transportation system (20 acres), 4) stormwater system (100 acres), 5) wastewater system (489 acres) and 6) sewers.
Do you enjoy Davis’ lovely Central Park? Did you know that it is completely organically maintained by the City? I love to have my bare feet in the grass while listening to the band at a Wednesday Farmers Market. It makes me feel safer to know that no neurotoxic pesticides were used there – at all.
I write this as a private citizen, but I am a member of the Natural Resources Commission’s Hazardous Substances Sub-committee, which is working toward having the City of Davis’ landscape management for City-owned public spaces be managed by the “least toxic principle” under the supervision of staff that is well qualified in organic landscape maintenance. To that end we have submitted a draft of suggestions for updating the IPM policy. An IPM landscape program should be based on prevention, monitoring, and control of unwanted plant growth in a manner that eliminates or drastically reduces the use of pesticides. The goal is to minimize the toxicity of and exposure to chemicals.
It is good for human children and adults, pets, wildlife, and our pollinators, which have been suffering from mass die-offs.
On April 6, the City will hold a public forum to learn about the service levels at public locations and facilities in Davis. Staff want feedback from community members about the service levels in landscape on City property such as parks, greenbelts, around playgrounds, dog parks, medians, and areas around the waste treatment plant and overflow wetlands. We are lucky to have on staff Martin Guerena, who is not only certified in pesticide application (techniques and safety), but also has years of experience as an organic farmer. He has many specific techniques for controlling unwanted plant growth without using toxic chemicals. He will be showing before/during/after photos of Davis locations on which he has used these alternate methods.
One part for which the City really feedback from residents is this “during” phase. Real plants (as opposed to those on manicured golf courses) grow and die and some return to life again the next year. This is the circle of life. In Davis many people appreciate the beauty and benefits of native plants and drought tolerant landscape. We are fortunate that in California, these plants look good during most of the year, but there are periods in which they die back so they can reseed or renew. They look ragged for a while and brown, rather than green.
The City is worried that our residents do not understand this cycle and its tradeoffs and will start complaining that things look unkempt and rough around the edges—not like a Beverly Hills lawn. But I think more highly of our population and like to give us more credit. Some staff are worried that we will think they are not doing their jobs well if they try this out throughout the City. They need our support.
IPM does not necessarily get rid of all unwanted growth but suppresses it below an acceptable level. I want to share with you, it takes a little while to transition things over to organic management. But it is possible. And it is, in my opinion, worth the wait. From what I have experienced, the amount of labor needed to use these practices is a little higher in the beginning and after 1-2 years is reduced.
Take solarization as an example. One puts a sheet of plastic over an area of unwanted growth (weeds, grass) for a period of time letting the heat of the sun bake the plants and roots until they are beyond dead. After removing the dead material, the soil can be amended and then mulch is put on top. In the end it looks nice and after picking the weeds as they pop up periodically for a year or two, the area needs very little maintenance.
There are many additional “tools in the toolbox” for weed control that are accepted by the USDA National Organic Program. They include hand removal, mechanized/motorized control, flaming, smothering, grazing, and acceptable herbicides.
Think about whether you would rather buy the insurance for a healthier community and healthier environment to live in and tell the City what you want. Drop by the forum April 6th at the Davis Senior Center from 7 – 9pm (646 A Street).