TO SPRAY OR NOT | 

Neighbors ask Weyerhaeuser to hand weed a clear-cut

By Susan Palmer

The Register-Guard

Appeared in print: Monday, Jun 21, 2010

 

 


A rainy day is the perfect kind of day to visit Artemio Paz’s 40-acre spread tucked just below Cedar Flat Ridge in a lower reach of the Cascade Range just east of Springfield.

Paz grows organic blue­berries there, an acre’s worth on otherwise mostly forested land. Just up the hill from his home, Cedar Creek begins as a small pool that spills down among the sword ferns and cedars, big old trees on land that hasn’t been logged for decades. Paz, whose main livelihood is as an architect, has lived here for 42 years.

Washington-based timberland giant Weyerhaeuser Co., one of his neighbors, owns 34 acres near the top of the ridge that it clear-cut last year. The natural contours of the property send runoff straight into Cedar Creek, which runs along Cedar Flat Road before gushing into the Mc­Kenzie River — Eugene’s drinking water source.

Like rural forestland dwellers across the Pacific Northwest, the residents along Cedar Flat Road all know the post-harvest drill. Once the loggers are gone, herbicide treatment to kill weeds and brush is not far behind. Most timberland owners regard chemical sprays as the only feasible way to get rid of brush that would otherwise slow the growth of or choke out newly planted tree seedlings.

But Paz and his neighbors are hoping for a different approach. They’ve sent a petition to Weyerhaeuser explaining the many ways they use Cedar Creek, primarily as irrigation for family vegetable gardens and animals, and as an emergency source of potable water. They’re worried that Weyerhaeuser’s spraying would contaminate the creek.

Paz is particularly concerned about his organic blueberries, certified by the state and at risk of contamination should any herbicide drift from the clear-cut, which is adjacent to his land.

The petition — sent to Weyerhaeuser in April — makes it clear that Cedar Flat Road residents don’t want Weyerhaeuser to use chemicals.

Friction between Pacific Northwest forestland owners and forest dwellers over herbicide spraying has been increasing in recent years as more residents move into forested areas and awareness of the potential dangers of the chemicals is on the rise.

In the case of Paz and his neighbors, they may be getting some traction with the industrial forester that owns 960,000 acres of Oregon land. There’s talk of hand weeding rather than spraying, and, possibly, a stewardship agreement.

Standard practice?

Those who interact with Weyerhaeuser about herbicides say it’s a surprising development. But a company spokesman said it’s just part of the firm’s standard procedure when it comes to working with neighbors.

“Our foresters and managers are professionals that have a culture of engaging in good neighbor relations and communications,” Weyerhaeuser spokesman Greg Miller said.

Lisa Arkin, executive director of the Eugene-based Oregon Toxics Alliance, often corresponds with forestland owners on behalf of families who live nearby. She said that she has yet to hear from Weyerhaeuser in response to the handful of letters she has sent them in regard to other instances of herbicide use.

In the Coast Range, anti-pesticide activists say Weyerhaeuser representatives have ignored their requests across a range of topics, from aerial herbicide spraying to early morning logging operations that wake the neighborhood as early as 3:30 a.m.

Day Owen, leader of a group known as the Pitchfork Rebellion, said Weyerhaeuser wouldn’t meet with the parents of Triangle Lake School students in 2008. The parents raised concerns about logging near the school and subsequent spraying for weeds.

But Weyerhaeuser spokesman Miller said the company did meet with the school board at a public session regarding logging. The company chose not to aerial spray for herbicides, applying them on the ground and leaving an unsprayed buffer along the shared property boundary, Miller said.

Owen’s group wants legally required limits on aerial herbicide spraying — buffers around homes similar to the legally required buffers around streams that have been put in place to protect imperiled salmon.

The situation in Owen’s neighborhood shows how strained the relations can become. Owen and one of his neighbors, Justin Workman, have both had visits from Lane County sheriff’s deputies.

Workman, who regularly tests water quality in nearby creeks for the local watershed council and has videotaped spraying operations on Weyerhaeuser land, has been accused, wrongly he says, of trespassing.

Concerns about the tone, timing and location of pesticide protests prompted a deputy’s visit to Owen’s home.

Workman once captured on tape the CB radio broadcast of a spraying contractor calling for a sniper rifle after realizing that he was being filmed.

Workman, his wife and children live on 1.5 acres of land surrounded by forest owned by Eugene-based Seneca. Workman said he has a much more amiable relationship with Seneca.

“These companies handle things differently,” he said.

Law mandates practice

Owen and Weyerhaeuser’s Miller accuse each other of rude behavior in their interactions.

Miller said Owen has never offered constructive solutions that would help Weyerhaeuser meet its requirement to quickly reforest the land it owns.

State law mandates that land zoned for forestry be replanted within two years of harvest and that within six years the young trees be in a “free to grow” state un­encumbered by weeds and brush.

“In order to get there, it’s incumbent on landowners to do some vegetative control,” state Department of Forestry spokesman Kevin Weeks said. But landowners have flexibility in how they do that, Weeks said. Some prefer herbicides, while others prefer hand weeding. The state doesn’t mandate a particular method.

Blackberry, Scotch broom, vine maple and other fast-growing plants can quickly take over a clear-cut if not controlled.

Herbicides are a much less expensive option than manual labor, Miller said. Hand weeding of competing growth can cost five to 10 times more than chemicals, he said.

The safety of crews, who face risks using power tools while working on broken terrain and moving through logging slash, also plays a role in Weyerhaeuser’s decisions, he said.

Up on Cedar Flat Road, the neighbors believe the solution could involve bringing in the Eugene-based Northwest Youth Corps to hand weed the harvested area, Paz said. NYC has crews of youngsters who are trained in weed removal and other work and are supervised by adults. The nonprofit group charges landowners based on the type and duration of the project.

While Weyerhaeuser has made no formal decision, Paz has received an e-mail from Mike McDowell, Springfield area team leader for Weyerhaeuser, suggesting a stewardship agreement. Who would manage and pay for the manual weed control is uncertain, but Paz thinks Weyerhaeuser should contribute whatever it would have spent on the herbicides.

He believes Weyerhaeuser’s interest in alternatives may have been influenced by an e-mail he sent to Weyer­haeuser CEO Daniel Fulton in April, asking him to intervene. In that e-mail, Paz said, he quoted Fulton’s own words about the company’s core values — which included a commitment to the community. Paz found the comments online in a transcript of a speech Fulton gave to shareholders.

Miller would not confirm whether Fulton had taken a personal interest in the Cedar Flat acreage.

“As a matter of routine communication, Mr. Paz’s e-mail was referred back to the local operating area,” Miller said.

Keeping the commons

Paz — while hoping for the best — has also taken the precaution of having his land and water tested by a forensic agronomist for pesticides. If herbicides were to be used nearby and end up on his property, he would have a baseline measurement to show that they weren’t there before, he said.

He knows that Weyer­haeuser has the right to manage its own land as it sees fit. He said he just wants to make sure there are no negative impacts to others, including his blueberry crops.

“You can’t take the commons. You can’t take clean water. You can’t take clean air. It’s in the public domain,” he said.

While Owen is glad to see negotiations between Weyerhaeuser and their neighbors, he still believes rules governing herbicide use should change. Under state law, forestland owners are largely free to spray their property, provided they notify the state ahead of time and take steps to prevent drift onto neighboring land.

“It’s good any time an individual can work out an arrangement with a timber company,” Owen said. “But for every anomaly, there’s 99.9 percent of everybody else who aren’t getting to work out those differences.”

Trying to compare Weyerhaeuser’s practices in two different watersheds misses a key difference in land use, Miller said.

The Cedar Flat forest is an isolated piece of land near a major urban area with a high likelihood that it could be used for other purposes because of urban growth, whereas Weyerhaeuser land in the Triangle Lake area is part of a largely forest-zoned landscape with both public forests and private industrial forest landowners, he said.

“We look at the neighbor situation on a case by case basis,” he said.


HERBICIDE USE

State and federal laws govern their use on forests

Federal: The Environmental Protection Agency requires that label instructions on pesticides be followed for general-use herbicides. Restricted-use herbicides may only be applied by certified applicators.

State: The state Department of Forestry requires notice before herbicides can be used. Landowners must say where treatment will occur, describe soils and slope at the location, the amount and type of chemicals that will be used and any resources, such as streams on the site or threatened species that might be impacted. Such conditions would require a plan to minimize the impact.

Public records: Notifications of herbicide use are available to anyone willing to pay a fee to get them.

Online: A group, Forestland Dwellers, pays for a sampling of spray documents from around Lane County and posts them on the Web at www.forestlanddwellers.org/spray_notices.html