First Foods for Spring

Curled fern tips are tender and mild, with a taste similar to asparagus.

Food is our medicine. Foods not only provide nourishment for our body, they also nourish us emotionally and spiritually. Whether it be root foraging, harvesting wild fruits and nuts, procuring plant fibers for basket weaving, fishing, hunting, or gardening, these practices bond our spirit with the earth and make us feel whole. These practices also keep us connected as families by continuing traditions imperative for our health, livelihoods, and cultural survival.

Our knowledge of edible wild foods, known as First Foods, is passed from generation to generation by our elders. Our inherited knowledge of how to access, prepare and cultivate food ultimately offers us security and peace of mind during times when everything else may feel uncertain.

All communities can take part in connecting to the natural world. We can implement policies that protect First Foods habitats from environmental degradation. Many of us do not realize that the areas around us were once home to a wide array of foods, medicines, and fibers that, when properly stewarded, can continue to play their important role for traditional uses.

Foraging for wild food is a great way to connect with your land and also support your health with diversity of nutrients. There is an abundance of resources to nourish you right outside your backdoor, if you know what to look for.

For example, the highly valued blue camas were essential to nourish many Western Tribes and First Nations. From the Northern California coast to Yellowstone National Park, many Indigenous people have relied on nutrition from these plants to live healthy lives.

Here are four First Foods of the Northwest that we are looking out for this month and why we consider them special.

Camas
Camassia leichtlinii

Here in the Willamette Valley, we have an abundance of edible blue camas blooming April-May. The edible part of camas is the bulb,, which is the part of the plant that is most relished since they are packed with protein and become very sweet when cooked. Camas bulbs were collected by many Northwest Coast tribes. Camas was, and continues to be, one of the most important “root” crops of western First Foods. These plants are adapted to a wide range of terrains: from seasonally wet soils in full sun to partial shade areas from southwestern British Columbia to Montana, and south to California and from east to western Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains.

Spruce Tips
Picea sitchensis

Native Americans have long known the nutritional value of these young conifer tips. Coastal people used spruce tips, along with other fir needles to brew teas, season dishes, and to cure salmon before smoking it. Spruce tips are packed with Vitamin C and electrolytes, including magnesium and potassium. Many Western Tribes have relied on spring Spruce tips to ward off thirst, hunger, colds, coughs and fatigue.

Fiddlehead Ferns
Various species

Fiddleheads are young edible fern fronds that can be harvested from forest floors throughout the Pacific Northwest in mid to late spring. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), and lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) are the two edible fiddlehead species in the Pacific Northwest. It is best to harvest the fiddlehead tips as they are emerging from the soil before the tip is unfurled into a leaf. 

The curled fern tips are tender and mild with a taste similar to asparagus.   Fiddleheads should always be cooked and may be boiled, sauteed, or baked. They can also be processed and preserved in pickling solution, frozen, or canned. Many Native Americans also harvested fiddlehead rhizomes for starch in their diets.

Black Cottonwood
Populus trichocarpa

“Populus” means “peoples” in Latin to signify how this tree has been so useful for many people over the centuries. Black Cottonwood seeds cannot survive in the shade of their parents and so they must seek new habitat by wind dispersal. These are masses of white-fluffs that take to the skies, usually in late May. The Cottonwood tree was, and still is, viewed as a medicine tree by many Plains Tribes and Coastal Tribes since many parts of the cottonwood tree are medicinal. The buds, leaves and bark are full of a chemical called salacin, which is a natural anti-inflammatory and pain-reducer and has often been applied topically to reduce swelling in wounds. The resin that fills the buds in the first part of the year is also a valuable substance that was used to waterproof baskets and buckets for storing and carrying food, among other traditional uses.

This is only a small sample of the rich and highly varied First Foods and medicine culture that have been stewarded for centuries. This knowledge is shared to enrich the lives of people around the world today. It is up to us, all in our various social, cultural and political roles, to protect and care for these important resources for future generations. Beyond Toxics is committed to protecting the knowledge of and equal access to First Foods and precious natural resources through pesticide reform, community education and promoting stewardship of natural resources throughout Oregon.

~ Jennifer Eisele, Western Shoshone and Northern Paiute and Krystal Abrams, Cherokee & Muscogee.


12 First Foods & Medicines of the Willamette Valley

Camas: Camassia leichtlinii and Camassia quamash Cooking Blue Camas  

Elderberry: Sambucus cerulea Delicious Uses for Elderberry

Spruce Tips: Picea sitchensis Foraging Spruce Tips (and other conifer tips)

Dandelion: Dandelion – A foraging guide to its food, medicine and other uses

Tarweed: Madea elegans Late season bloomer: Common tarweed (Madia elegans)

Lomatium: Lomatium dissectum  The Supernatural power of Lomatium

Plantain: Plantago lanceolata Three Easy Ways to Cook Plantain, The Spinach-like Survival Weed

Chickweed: Stellaria media  The Glories of Chickweed, Uses, Cultivation, Recipes & More 

Red Cedar: Thuja plicata Wild Foods and Medicines:  Western Red Cedar

Salmonberry: Rubus spectabilis Salmonberry:  Food, Medicine, Culture, Part 1

Salal: Gaultheria shallon: Oregon Encyclopedia: Salal

Black Cottonwood: Populus trichocarpa How to Make Cottonwood Salve

 

Double Trouble – Climate Change and COVID-19

As we expand our understanding and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to start thinking about how we are going to move forward after the global pandemic. There is a glimmer of hope that we will take a step towards changing the current socioeconomic structure built upon never-ending expansion that extracts finite resources and uses the public’s common air and water as the dumping ground for pollution and waste. I hope there is a silver lining in this crisis that set us upon a path towards a society that promotes sustainability and supports resilient communities. 

Although it may be difficult to tell what the future will look like, we know that the impacts caused by the pandemic will be devastating to our economy and social structures. While the pandemic is a priority issue that needs to be addressed now, let’s think about the ways in which our past actions have influenced our current circumstances. Our attention should be directed at the ways in which society’s “business as usual” way of life has created long-lasting environmental damage to the Earth’s ecosystems, and has left us unprepared to respond to the emergency at hand. We need to address this devastating damage now before we carelessly set ourselves back on the old path to the point of no return.


We Cannot Forget About the Fight Against Climate Change! 

Recent environmental regulation rollbacks and continued support of the fossil fuel industry have made clear that the current Administration cares little about preparing for climate change impacts. While we brace ourselves for the outcomes of this and possible repetitions of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider how the negative effects of a virus could be exacerbated by climate change.

Our response will be influenced by disruptions such as forced relocation due to extreme weather events and resulting changes in demographics as people seek relief from intense heat, failed crops or raging hurricanes. Cultural losses will also be profound among those who rely on healthy and abundant natural resources to sustain their livelihoods. Destroying natural resources through practices such as deforestation will cause greenhouse gas emissions to keep rising, and negatively impact our health and well being.

Disproportionate Impacts on Frontline Communities – Uncomfortable Similarities

It is increasingly clear that frontline communities are suffering the greatest impacts from both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. The similarities are stark. Frontline communities – communities of color, Tribes and indigenous peoples, and low-income populations – most often bear the brunt of disasters caused by extreme weather events and other climate-related impacts. Drought can cause threats to food security and nutrition. Wildfires and flooding destroy homes. Rising  sea levels can wipe out entire coastal communities. Vulnerable communities suffer disproportionate harm through depression or post traumatic stresses that understandably accompany disasters and loss. 

Moving Forward

Our decision-makers must develop adaptation and mitigation policies that acknowledge the disproportionate impacts on frontline communities, and implement actions that equally benefit their health and well-being. Our system of top down governance has failed us. Instead, solutions need to be developed by communities themselves. 

We must not give in to despair. We must endeavor to find the right path in all of this chaos. Join me in imagining a world where our children and future generations will be able to thrive. Imagine them with full equality and equity, enjoying the world’s natural gifts. Imagine how amazing it will be for them to know that the earth’s previous stewards stood strong and persisted in their fight for climate justice.

Haley Case-Scott,
Beyond Toxics Climate Justice Grassroots Organizer


Consulted Sources

Anderson, INGER. “First Person: COVID-19 Is Not a Silver Lining for the Climate, Says UN Environment Chief.” UN News, 5 Apr. 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061082.

“Donald Trump.” Inside Climate News, 2020.  https://insideclimatenews.org/tags/donald-trump

Ebi, K.L., J.M. Balbus, G. Luber, A. Bole, A. Crimmins, G. Glass, S. Saha, M.M. Shimamoto, J. Trtanj, and J.L. White-Newsome, 2018: Human Health. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 539–571. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH14

“EPA Announces Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 Pandemic.” EPA News Releases, 26 Mar. 2020, https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-enforcement-discretion-policy-covid-19-pandemic.

“Everyone Included: Social Impact of COVID-19 | DISD.” United Nations; Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/everyone-included-covid-19.tml

LaPier, Rosalyn, and Abaki Beck. “Misrepresenting Traditional Knowledge during COVID-19 Is Dangerous.” High Country News, 23 Mar. 2020, https://www.hcn.org/articles/covid19-misrepresenting-traditional-knowledge-during-covid-19-is-dangerous?fbclid=IwAR2v3TnFVBvhCzeU4qNbZHScpFDFBPldqL-inqyEpcpvvm2rbwxjsVUhJ0E.

Smith, K.R., A.Woodward, D. Campbell-Lendrum, D.D. Chadee, Y. Honda, Q. Liu, J.M. Olwoch, B. Revich, and R. Sauerborn, 2014: Human health: impacts, adaptation, and co-benefits. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel,A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L.White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 709-754

COVID-19 virus reveals that environmental justice is a public health issue

As of April 17, the COVID-19 Corona virus has taken the lives of over 153,177 people worldwide. We’ve learned that the risk of dying from the virus is not the same for everyone. While age is certainly a risk factor, it turns out the biggest determinants of whether a person might die from contracting the virus is living near air pollution emitters and being African American. Reports state that people who live near air toxic sources such as chemical factories, incinerators and wood products industries are 15% more likely to die if exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Compounding this significant risk, communities of color are more likely to live closest to polluting industries.

The pandemic of COVID-19 exposed the truth of environmental injustices. People of color have more underlying and serious health conditions, including heart disease, respiratory diseases such as asthma or chronic bronchitis and diabetes. Exacerbating these health vulnerabilities is inequitable access to adequate health care coverage and discrimination when seeking medical treatments.

Smoke plume in West Eugene neighborhood taken from Meadow Lark Prairie looking east toward the Beltline Highway. Photo by Jake Jackson.

 

Beyond Toxics’ research in our local community confirms that breathing dirty air has measurable negative impacts on health and lifestyle. People in West Eugene live closest to 99% of all air toxic polluters within the city limits. Our research shows these neighbors are more than twice as likely to have asthma, an underlying condition that increases susceptibility to the corona virus and all pathogens. People in West Eugene also report they are less inclined to exercise outdoors because they try to avoid breathing noxious odors in the air.

We can see the vicious cycle: Exposure to air pollution damages cells and impairs normal cell function, which creates weakness in our immune systems and more susceptibility to inflammatory reactions — and eventually, sickness. Living near polluters means people exercise less, which contributes to higher rates of obesity and heart disease.

Local public health authorities determined that life expectancy is 18 years less for people living in West Eugene than other areas of the city. West Eugene’s neighborhoods are more racially diverse. West Eugene’s air is saturated with toxic chemicals from numerous sources. In West Eugene, land use zoning puts residential neighborhoods adjacent to polluters. Environmental inequities are not theoretical in West Eugene. Every day people in these vulnerable communities suffer a variety of health problems that take a toll on the people living there. That is why we say that “zip code matters.” Patterns of existing and historical pollution paired with environmental injustice make some neighborhoods more ripe for the ravaging effects of a pandemic.

We are fortunate that Oregon has not become a hotbed of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We may not be so lucky when the next crisis strikes. Taking action to break the linkages between environmental racism, poisoning of our communities and illness will create better health for everyone.

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director
Beyond Toxics

Free to breathe and thrive

Bianca Marcella Ballará

I am passionate about the Earth just as I am passionate for humanity. In my eyes and the eyes of many walking alongside me, there is no difference. My vision is for all Oregonians to live in a thriving landscape wherein we may drink pure, clean water and breathe clear air and be nourished from living soils. I speak out for an Oregon that respects our environment in order to respect the health of our own human community.

For me, water is more than an eight-glass daily prescription. Water is the most fundamental component of our well-being. It connects us to the past, to the future and to every living being in the web of life.

Water enters our bodies as energizing hydration and exits our bodies as cleansing relief to pass through the water cycle and hydrate the next being.

In the words of Grandma Agnes Baker Parker, a respected elder of the local Takelma Tribe and treasure of people worldwide, “All humans came from water in the amniotic sac of our mother’s womb and that water is our first medicine. We are to take care of it and guard it. Not just for now but for seven generations to come in the unborn.”

Our relationship with air is the same. On average, every human alive draws in 12 generous breaths every minute. Those oxygen molecules are the same that sustained our great grandparents and will inspire your great grandchildren.

Every one of us has an intimate connection with air and water. Air and water move from oceans and atmospheres outside of our bodies to cellular exchange deep within. We are united by the way that they swirl between and through, meeting all of our needs.

In this unity, we are so very similar with every living and thriving organism. Plant, animal, mineral: we are interconnected and inextricable from waters of streams and the air we breathe. It is no wonder these timeless elements are honored and blessed across all ancient indigenous cultures, from the Lakota of the Great Plains to the Druids of the British Isles, from the Yoruba of Nigeria to the Buddhists of Tibet.

Because water, air and soil travel the world, wise ones imagine good thoughts and speak wishes into them, spreading well-being, health and good fortune globally.

We at Beyond Toxics hope to continually learn from these earth-based cultures. When we protect Oregon’s water and air and work to keep them clean, we hope that we are spreading good wishes for well-being across our diverse communities. If these elements thrive, every single human being will be supported by them equally.

During these quickly changing and trying times of the COVID-19 virus global pandemic, we are learning not only the high value of the 6 feet around our bodies but of what occurs across thousands of miles of land and sea. I believe it is very important to understand that our immune systems would not be as vulnerable without the significant toll already burdening us from the rampant and bio-persistent pollution contaminating our ecosystem. We are also learning that some of our immune systems are already more compromised and therefore markedly more vulnerable to this threat than others.

Right now, even in Oregon, air and water pollution oppresses the poorest neighborhoods, exposes those in the lowest-income jobs and affects disproportionately greater numbers of indigenous and communities of color. From the eyes of the privileged, these conditions go unnoticed, but through the eyes of those most affected, the degradation of our precious air and water, and of the community, are in plain sight. Balance will be restored only as we attend to this difference.

Born of our collaboration with Unete Center for Farmworker Advocacy in Medford and NAACP-Lane County, we have formed “LOCAL”: Liberation of Community and Land. LOCAL serves the indigenous and communities of color of Oregon by encouraging an environmental justice movement–by and for our diverse people. This, in turn, serves the broader community by lifting up the deep wisdom of our ancestors’ relationship to land. We come together across our diverse Native and backgrounds of color because we are stronger, more visible and more supported in shifting our Oregon culture to one that celebrates diversity. We come together to offer environmental solutions that work for all, not just for some. During this time of facing a public health crisis, we need big ideas and a grand vision; we need justice for all; and we need a multiplicity of perspectives.

With the growing acceptance of scientific research showing the harmful effects of toxic chemicals on human, pollinator and salmon health and the available resources for organic methods, we at Beyond Toxics are working to implement new ways forward. Our cities and counties need alternative solutions so we can leave behind pesticides as artifacts of the recent past and return our children and families to organic green public spaces.

Beyond Toxics wishes to serve as an inspiration for a society that values well-being and peace. We do this by honoring the importance water, air and soil had to our ancestors and will have for the children of future generations.

Earth’s wellness ensures our own vitality and, in turn, keeps our individual immune systems strong. Whether human, plant or animal, clean air and clean water are at the center of what we need for good health, nourishment, and the basic ability to thrive and live long. Until all of us can breathe easily, drink fully and pray, learn and work in well-stewarded landscapes, I will be encouraging all of our communities to speak and rise in unity. Together we have the capacity to keep our local ecosystem healthy, ourselves healthy and contribute to creating a foundation for a Culture of Peace.

Bianca Ballará is an Environmental Justice community organizer for Beyond Toxics and the LOCAL project and is a first-generation Latinx living and working in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon.

The Tough Keep Going: Advancing Forest Practices and Pesticide Reform

Helicopter applying spray on forestry block. Photo by Francis Earthington.

 

We’ve arrived at a moment when an agreement between corporate timber representatives and environmental health and forest protection defenders has been brokered. Perspectives on the value of such an agreement run the gamut, from Governor Brown’s pronouncement of “historic” to the angry claim of “shameless” by social media users. Beyond Toxics came at this with extreme caution because we understand the risks of compromise. We had to evaluate what was lost as a trade for benefits that move the marker closer to our goals: those of non toxic communities and healthy forest ecosystems.

The intent and legal aspects of this agreement, or “memorandum of understanding,” is codified in HB 4168-2. The bill has been set adrift in the stormy, contentious waters of Oregon’s 2020 Legislative Session. The bill passed out of the House Rules Committee last week only to be shunted to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, a place often referred to as “the legislation graveyard.” Whatever your stance on the wisdom of this agreement, there is every possibility that it will fail at one of the hurdles it faces. If HB 4168-2 fails to pass, the entire agreement is scrapped. This isn’t necessarily a setback, because a strong, dedicated coalition of environmental advocates have formed to pursue future policy battles. And there are 3 ballot measures ready to be launched to get a public vote on protecting Oregon’s forest waters. Fortunately, these ballot measures poll very, very well.

Where Does Beyond Toxics Stand?

With twelve years of forest and pesticide reform and rural community health advocacy and leadership to our credit, Beyond Toxics provided in-depth consultation to the negotiators from Oregon Wild and Wild Salmon Center on the timber pesticide and notification sections of the Enviro-Timber Agreement leading to HB 4168-2.

Beyond Toxics supports the agreement because, at the minimum, it establishes a policy floor below which Oregon will never sink. By signing on to this agreement and supporting HB 4168-2, timber companies openly acknowledge for the first time that they can (and should):

  • Protect Oregon’s water with no-spray buffers on all tributaries and headwater streams;
  • Expand no-spray buffer zones on all fish and drinking water streams;
  • Expand no-spray buffers on drinking water intakes to 300 ft.;
  • Provide timely notifications and acknowledge the possibility of pesticide drift by giving 24-hr advanced notice to nearby residents who need to protect themselves and their property;
  • Increase the accuracy of the timber spray notifications and allow access to the files by other state agencies for research purposes;
  • Adopt a pathway forward to developing a Habitat Conservation Plan to protect wildlife.

These are agreements that create a foundation of understanding about the need to update and reform Oregon’s forest practices laws. The agreement levels the playing field so that shared understandings, science and the experience of disproportionate burdens experienced by multiple communities are centered and valued in the next steps moving forward. Now, Oregon legislators have a stronger basis on which to end the current stalemate on pesticide reform and take meaningful action.

The Long Road to an Agreement: Our History of Statewide Activism of Timber Herbicide Use and Water Quality

Beyond Toxics’ early involvement in timber pesticide issues began in 2008 with support for a small group of rural residents called Forestland Dwellers. Led by Lynne Bowers, these folks were hand-coloring maps of where the aerial sprays were happening near their homes. From hand-colored maps and grassroots rallies in communities from Josephine to Tillamook counties, Beyond Toxics launched a science-based and ground-truthing approach. Soon we published our report, Oregon’s Industrial Forests and Herbicide Use: A Case Study of the Risk to People, Drinking Water and Salmon, a 2012 analysis and GIS mapping report on timber herbicide use in the Coastal range of West Lane County. This report provided the first fact-based understanding of herbicide sprays in industrial timberlands; the analysis was based on the spray records provided by timber companies. Our research exposed the multiple years of pesticide spraying the industry had previously denied and the chemical cocktail tank mixes never before revealed. We identified Atrazine, 2,4D, glyphosate and hexazinone as the top four herbicides sprayed in Oregon, contributing to a total of about a dozen poisons. We put together a multi-state comparison documenting how Oregon promotes the weakest forest practices laws in the Pacific Northwest (including Idaho and Alaska).

Then in 2013, Beyond Toxics documented the horrific aerial spray exposures that harmed over 30 people in Gold Beach, Curry County. We worked side-by-side with several residents to lift the voices of this rural community of loggers and blue-collar workers to the attention of state agencies and the Oregon Legislature. The rest of the nation learned about their plight through our video documentation, national media coverage, community health reports, and our petitions to federal agencies.

Cedar Valley residents and Lisa Arkin (3rd from left) testified for aerial pesticide spray reform during the 2015 Oregon legislative session.

 

Together with this tightly-knit community, Beyond Toxics worked with Senator Michael Dembrow and former Representative Ann Lininger in 2015 to introduce SB 613, a bill to require advance spray notifications, buffer zones and more. We organized rural residents from nearly a dozen Oregon counties to travel to the State Legislature to testify and tell their stories of exposure to herbicide drift. It was an epic battle: working-class rural Oregonians versus corporate timber companies, at times attacked by their own legislators. We spoke truth to power to County Commissioners and legislators. 2015 was the session we raised the alarm about former Senator Jeff Kruse, who called his own constituents unsavory names on the floor of the Senate! (Senator Kruse was later ousted by the Legislature on charges of sexual harassment in 2018). Rob Davis, longtime reporter for The Oregonian, chronicled the fight for sensible forest laws.

Former board member David Bahr (left), Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics, Executive Director (center) and Darryl Ivy (right) met in spring of 2015,  before he came forward to the press with his story.

 

Then in 2015 I met Darryl Ivy, an employee of Seneca, who attended a Beyond Toxics/Umpqua Watersheds Town Hall meeting in Roseburg with other employees. Darryl was the chemical tank truck driver who videotaped his and other workers’ exposures to aerial spray drift, took pictures of leaking herbicide tank trucks in public parking lots and was forced to mix pesticides with neither training nor a pesticide handler’s license. Darryl’s story had a profound impact on the path to exposing the timber industry’s lax practices and dismal worker protection standards.

Photo taken at a clear-cut site in the Oregon Coast Range. Photo by David Tvedt.

 

Later that same year, Beyond Toxics was contacted by Nancy Webster, a Rockaway Beach resident, about their history of rampant clear cutting and aerial herbicide sprays resulting in contaminated municipal drinking water. We mapped her community’s watershed and actively supported the community’s grassroots efforts and their ongoing and highly successful community conversations series. The Rockaway Beach community and the Curry County residents joined us to testify in the State Legislature!

Oregon’s first timber spray electronic reporting system, no-spray buffers for homes and new requirements for how state agencies must respond and investigate pesticide spray incidents came from Beyond Toxics’ early years of grassroots organizing and advocacy efforts.

In 2017 we came back to the legislature, again with the guidance of Senator Dembrow, to lead the advocacy for forest practices reform bills. In that session we sought to address the public’s right to have advanced warnings about aerial sprays (SB 892), the right to have their day in court without the risk of owing potentially millions of dollars in attorney fees to timber companies (SB 500), and the right to file a claim of property damage or injury to health (SB 499).

Then in 2019 we presented the case and brought forward the concept to ban aerial sprays in state forests (SB 926).

A tour of Shady Creek Forest, an example of a forest managed with resilient forestry practices in Lane County. Photo by Lisa Arkin.

In concert with residents from rural communities reeling from the harm they experience from timber pesticide sprays, Beyond Toxics spearheaded the earliest research, grassroots organizing, video documentaries, Resilient Forestry Tours and legislation – ultimately leading to the recognition of the central importance of spray drift to health of communities  and Oregon’s watersheds. Like tributaries flowing into the mighty river, it is a legacy of work that joins with the impressive efforts of conservation groups like Wild Salmon Center, Oregon Stream Protection Alliance, Oregon Wild and many others.

We’re proud of our legacy of leadership in healthy forests and healthy communities. Today we are also pleased to be working together with a larger coalition of environmental groups to break the proverbial logjam to progress. We have a remarkable opportunity to advance critical first steps towards lasting protections for forest waters and rural communities.

If we remain strong and united, Oregon will finally have a future where forests serve their highest functions as carbon sinks, wildlife habitats, sanctuaries for cool and clear running streams, sustainable logging harvests and places for recreation and reflection. This is all the more reason to believe that the signed agreement between timber and environmentalists will jump-start actions that benefit forests, protect watersheds and modernize Oregon’s approach to timber management.

~ Lisa Arkin, Executive Director, Beyond Toxics

 

The real cause of division in communities
By David Eisler

Amanda Astor ends her recent Register-Guard column with “Better understanding of forests and the science behind decision making can bring our community closer and tear down divisions and alarmist narratives.”

Apparently she believes that scientists’ and community members’ concerns about the impacts of industrial logging are alarmist and have no basis in fact. Astor would have us all simply accept timber companies public relations and we should all get along just fine living with high-impact clear-cutting, aerial herbicide spraying, monocrop plantations and the decimation of forest and aquatic ecosystems.

So, let’s be clear about what seems to be the cause of division in the communities.

Astor correctly points out that there are many approaches to forest management used by private forestland owners. It is the management model used by large corporate landowners and timber investment management organizations, often Wall Street-based, which place value on the highest financial return for stockholders.

This management model depends on the conversion of older, healthy biodiverse and resilient forests into monocrop Douglas fir plantations that cover vast expanses of the landscape. It is the impacts — including herbicide drift onto neighboring properties and water systems, steep slope landslides, runoff sediments clogging salmon spawning streams — that create tension, division and Astor’s “alarmist narratives.”

Example of clear cut and burn forestry practices in Oregon’s Oxbow region. Photo by David Tvedt.

Plantations are not “forests.” Forests are composed of interacting communities of plants and animals that develop over long periods of time. A plantation is no more a “forest” than a 100-acre corn crop is a meadow or prairie. The complex processes that drive the development of healthy forests are increasingly well understood by researchers at Oregon State University’s Forest Ecosystems and Society program.

Astor perpetuates the industry myth that clear-cutting, burning off all residual woody material, several years of herbicide spraying and the planting of Douglas fir seedlings genetically selected for fast growth eight feet apart, somehow mimics natural disturbances such as fire or insect infestations. Scientific research has not supported this industrial narrative myth.

Any industry that has shareholder profits as its primary objective needs to convince the public that there are no environmental or human health impacts from their management. The tobacco industry put profits before truth for decades. The mining companies in Appalachia claimed to put worker safety before profits. The gasoline industry claimed that adding lead was necessary.

The timber industry has a narrative that serves their interests including softening words like “clear-cutting” to “regeneration harvests” or “overstory removal” and overusing the word “sustainable” to suggest maintaining healthy forests instead of planting seedlings to replace trees to sustain timber volume into the future.

If Astor and other industry foresters would like to educate us in the “science of decision making,” we might come to understand why clear-cutting cycles are shortening to 30 years and why it is necessary to apply fertilizer to depleted soils and why the cost and impacts of aerial herbicide spraying is economically worth the risks to human health, water quality and wildlife.

The narrative that industry lobbying groups have painted is a picture of clean water, abundant wildlife and “forests” forever, the “everything-is-just-great-folks” narrative.

While we may enjoy relatively cheap lumber prices in the short run, the industry model of high-impact logging passes along the costs of the impacts to all Oregonians.

Yes, the companies follow state laws, but with the help of a powerful lobby in Salem and a Board of Forestry dominated by industry interests, the Forest Practices Act has held off meaningful changes since 1972.

The “alarmists” and “divisions” Astor refers to are based on decades of communities directly experiencing the results of industrial forestry. Communities like Gold Beach where dozens of lives were irreversibly impacted by forestry herbicides and Rockaway Beach where municipal water now has cancer-causing chemicals, have every right to feel the divisions and expect something better from their industrial neighbors.

***************

David Eisler leads a 2017 resilient forestry tour at his privately owned Shady Creek forest in the coast range. Photo by Lisa Arkin

 

David Eisler, Ph.D., is a retired anthropologist. He has actively managed forest land in the Coast Range for 40 years. He was a founding board member of the Siuslaw Watershed Council and was a founding member of the Siuslaw National Forest’s collaborative Stewardship Group. David has been a long time partner with Beyond Toxics, starting with co-developing Resilient Forestry Tours. The tours have served, for the past 3 years, to educate Oregonians about the dangers of aerial herbicides sprays, the necessity of protecting balanced forest ecosystems and the possibilities of sustainably managed diverse, mixed species forests for clean water and carbon storage.

A right to clean air

Do you wonder how polluted the air you are breathing is? The fact is, the quality of our local air is a critical factor in our health. Sadly, air pollutants commonly found in Eugene-Springfield’s air are known to cause serious harm to public health.

Example of the air pollution sources common for residents of West Eugene. Unedited video footage of the Arauco North factory In West Eugene, 2019.

In the next few months, the air pollution permits for the Seneca Sawmill and the Seneca biomass plant (a.k.a., Seneca Sustainable Energy) will be considered for renewal. Beyond Toxics asked the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA) to schedule public hearings to ensure that input from those in the community most impacted by air pollution be heard and considered. Those public hearings should be announced soon.

Holding a public hearing is absolutely necessary to ensure democratic and representational input from the public. Beyond Toxics has a long history of holding LRAPA responsible for greater public accountability and transparency, including Beyond Toxics’ successful 2019 Civil Rights complaint to the US EPA. Our federal Civil Rights complaint against LRAPA was a milestone in demanding agency compliance with fair, equitable and democratic practices – we’re proud we succeeded in getting the EPA’s support (even under the current Trump administration!). Our case was one of two Civil Rights Complaint cases in the entire Pacific Northwest which were accepted as valid cases and successfully concluded!

Help our entire community keep LRAPA accountable to clean air and public health! If you value the right to clean air, please join together with Beyond Toxics to make sure that LRAPA follows the full intent of the new state law, Cleaner Air Oregon.

Cleaner Air Oregon is a set of laws created to prioritize and protect the health and well-being of all Oregonians from air toxics emissions from industrial and commercial sources. The State of Oregon recently adopted these new air quality protection laws because of the strong association between air quality and public health. I served nearly two years on the CAO Rules Advisory Committee and can assure you that Beyond Toxics fought very hard to successfully win new laws that will reduce cancers and other serious health ailments in Oregon.

New information repeatedly confirms the causal relationship between toxic exposures and the epidemic of chronic diseases in this country. The rate of cancer cases is now above 40% and climbing about 3.5 to 4% per year. According to the National Cancer Institute, estimated 2017 national expenditures for cancer care in the US were $147.3 billion. In future years, costs are likely to increase as the population ages and cancer prevalence increases. Chronic illnesses, including neurological problems, autoimmune and respiratory diseases are also associated with breathing polluted air. Until the social costs of poor public health are included in any air toxics risk assessment, we have not addressed the problem!

Upon review of Lane County’s air quality data, as gathered by the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA), a government organization that tracks the quality of our local air, it is clear that there is a problem that needs attention.

Rosboro Lumber was recently fined $9,000 for air pollution violations as a result of a complaint filed by Beyond Toxics.

Since November 1, Eugene has experienced only 14 days of good air quality. That means our air was healthy to breathe less than one third of the days in November and December. During four additional days, or nearly 10% of the time, the air was rated as “Unhealthy” for groups identified as especially sensitive to air pollution. According to LRAPA data, the rest of the days our air quality was “Moderate” about 60% of the time. Moderate air quality is acceptable; however, pollutants there may still be a moderate health concern for some people.

Many activities contribute to polluted air. For example, people start up their car in the morning long before they plan to actually start driving it. The exhaust of a stationary car with its motor running fills the air with benzene, carbon monoxide, airborne particulate matter and other toxic chemicals. Stagnant weather patterns also contribute to air pollution issues by trapping pollutants which can then reach unhealthy levels.

Our industrial economy uses our common air shed to discharge pollution, but these companies are not held accountable for their contribution to the public harm caused by cancer, asthma and other diseases linked to air toxics. As I visited various areas of Eugene on some of our stagnant air days, I saw industrial smoke stacks spewing out plumes of dirty emissions. Most of us smell the emissions, but we may ignore it or accept it as “the way things are in Eugene.”

Do you recognize the signature smell of creosote and naphthalene from JH Baxter? How about that pungent smell of methanol mixed with the sooty taste of particle pollution that sticks to your tongue from the string of wood product industries just beyond Beltline Highway? Beyond Toxics has recently completed over 300 individual surveys of how West Eugene residents experience the quality of the air they breathe and their observations about health patterns in their families. Our data suggests the vast majority of the people living in areas of West Eugene smell polluted air and feel its impacts on a regular basis.

Beyond Toxics recently conducted a Environmental Justice Bus Tour of West Eugene factories with a group of community members.

Join us in our effort to gather our collective power to demand that regulations are fully enforced to protect the quality of our air and our health! We’re planning a number of community meetings and town halls.

We’ll be reporting on our findings, as well as helping residents learn how to give effective testimony during the upcoming hearings on two of Lane County’s largest polluters, Seneca Sawmill and Seneca Sustainable Energy (biomass incineration) plant. We’ll be discussing how to win an Oregon Green New Deal.

Our first meeting is the West Eugene Clean Air Community Meeting on Saturday, January 25 at Peterson Barn at 5:00 PM for dinner and a community discussion about YOUR RIGHT TO CLEAN AIR. I hope to personally see you there!

See our events page for more details->>

Tribal Climate Resilience in the Pacific Northwest

Krystal Abrams, Social Media and Pollinator Projects Manager

Native American Tribes and First Nations are most at-risk of suffering the devastating effects of climate change. Climate change is no longer a distant threat, but a dangerous force that places our native communities and resources at immediate risk. As with so many threats, indigenous peoples have been at the front lines of the devastation caused by climate change, forced to fight to protect their land, homes, and culture. Across the nation, tribes are rallying together to fight against climate change. Although this issue impacts everyone in the world, it has an even greater impact on indigenous people and their lands.

What makes a community more vulnerable to climate change? Some factors include proximity to rivers and coastal floodplains, residing in areas prone to extreme weather conditions, and economies that are heavily dependent on climate (like agriculture, fishing, and winter sports). Many Native communities in the Pacific Northwest fit into at least one of these categories and many are already implementing climate action plans.

The ATNI Climate Change Summit
This summer I visited Kalispel land in Spokane, Washington to attend the Climate Change Summit with the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and allies. This summit brought together leaders from Tribes and First Nations throughout the Pacific Northwest and North America to discuss tribal efforts to address climate change. The summit focused on tribal climate resilience, protecting and applying Traditional Knowledge in climate change initiatives, and implementing a unified tribal climate change policy agenda.

What are tribes doing to prepare?
Overall, tribes were focused on immediate action, as many nations are already feeling the harsh impacts of climate change, right here in the Pacific Northwest.

Inundation map shows where the Village of Taholah is under threat from tsunamis, storm surges and riverine flooding. A vast majority of the village is at risk of being under 20-30 feet of water with little to no notice.

A woman from the Quinault tribe on the Washington Coast mentioned that her tribe was considering a relocation plan. If adopted, this would involve moving nearly the entire village further inland. That’s because of sea level rises, brought on by climate change, that have swallowed a chunk of the coast. The Quinault, whose ancestors lived in their fishing village since time immemorial, are now faced with the prospect of uprooting their families and moving to higher ground.

The tribes in attendance also identified another crucial way to prepare for climate change: respecting and protecting traditional knowledge and incorporating it into future conversations to help shape future adaptations. Attendees all felt it was a priority to protect traditional knowledge within climate change initiatives, and rightfully so. After all, without the knowledge of our past, how can we hope to create a vibrant and equitable future?

The concept of Decolonizing Science was a hot topic addressed during presentations and discussions. This subject can be difficult to understand, after all, what does it actually mean to “decolonize” science? In other words, how has science been used as an instrument of colonization? As a science major and an indigenous woman myself, I can say with certainty that the current system that excludes indigenous knowledge in the scientific process is a problem. However, I see the concept of indigenizing the scientific method as a way to empower people to think about the natural world in a different way.

To decolonize does not displace objective data collection or methodology and has the benefit of improving science by incorporating ways that indigenous people think about and understand the physical world. It’s important to remember that our ancestors have cultivated and managed biological diversity for thousands of years. The extractive, euro-introduced economy is still very new in this place and is becoming a more toxic problem every year.

Perhaps the problems the world faces today would be better addressed if we considered those other solutions or ways of thinking instead of belittling them. One panelist, Clarita Lefthand-Begay, even took it a step further and described her research geared toward Indigenizing the Scientific Method, which essentially proposed ways to make the scientific method more native-friendly. She shared her expertise in both indigenous research methods and western scientific research methods, as well as her perspective about how to draw those two ways of knowing about the world closer together. There are many different ways to think about science and they can’t all be learned from a textbook.

Next steps
We can, in turn, learn how to build more resilient communities by taking the lead from our tribes who are refusing to turn a blind eye to these issues, and instead are rising up to make a difference. Our tribes are tackling climate change through many different avenues, such as taking a leadership role in other climate-smart trends, like renewable energy and sustainable housing development. Our tribes are stepping up to take action. Climate change is harming our tribal communities and threatening our culture. Not only is it unfair to discount the hardships our tribes endure–through no fault of their own–but it’s also unwise to ignore all the great work these communities have done to strengthen climate resiliency on tribal lands.

Since the arrival of European immigrants over 500 years ago, mainstream society has excluded the voices of indigenous peoples. This is especially true for conversations around climate change because everyone will be impacted, regardless of race, class, and privilege. If we want all of our communities to thrive in a rapidly changing and unpredictable climate, we must end this euro-introduced mentality of exclusion and denigration. Our society must invite tribal members to share their knowledge and perspectives in every task force and at every level of decision-making.

Krystal Abrams,
Social Media and Pollinator Projects Manager

The Retreat from Roundup: Evidence Backing Cancer Claims

Yes – Herbicides May Cause Cancer
Glyphosate is a weed-killing chemical that is found in a variety of commonplace herbicides, including Monsanto and Bayer AG’s Roundup. Over the past few years, the health and safety risks associated with spraying Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides have been called into question.

At the center of the discussion is the potential for Glyphosate to cause cancer in humans. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that glyphosate exposure can lead to the development of cancer. This classification, combined with the experience of Roundup users, triggered a wave of consumer lawsuits alleging that their cancer diagnoses were brought on by years of Roundup use.

Eugene Just Took Precautionary Action on Roundup
A retreat from Roundup is also taking place in cities and counties in the U.S. through policies and best practices guides. In June 2019, the City of Eugene decided to place a moratorium on the use of Roundup in order to protect public health (no end date). Their action was in response to the evidence of harm and the absence of federal regulations. This precautionary action is an increasingly common response from local governments who prioritize children’s health over misleading marketing campaigns from Monsanto and Bayer Chemical.

A recent study found residues of Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, was found in several family foods. Photo by Ephraim Payne

 

Roundup’s Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, is Everywhere
In Oregon, Roundup is sprayed in ways and in places that likely pose a health risk to people who may never have purchased or used the herbicide. Beyond Toxics recently participated in a study that measured residues of Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, in family foods such as cereals, beans, apples and broccoli purchased at popular Oregon grocery stores. The report found that tested products–oat cereals, apples, applesauce, spinach and pinto beans–contained detectable amounts of glyphosate. The average level of glyphosate found in cereal samples gathered in Oregon (500 parts per billion) was more than 3 times the level set by scientists at Environmental Working Group for lifetime cancer risk for children. The average level of glyphosate found in pinto beans (507 ppb) was more than 4.5 times the benchmark. We’ve also reported that the Oregon Department of Forestry use helicopters to aerially spray a mixture of chemicals, including glyphosate mixed with other herbicides, on thousands of acres of clear cuts in state-designated protected drinking watersheds.

Most concerning of all, more than a dozen products containing glyphosate can be sprayed on school grounds! In fact, herbicides containing glyphosate are on the permitted “Low-Impact” pesticides list approved for use at Oregon schools (compiled by Oregon State University).

How can Oregonians grasp the potential harm to human health from the ubiquitous use of glyphosate products, such as Roundup, on the foods we eat, the water we drink and the playgrounds where our children play? As controversies continue to swirl around the safety of glyphosate, three significant courtroom cases presented enough evidence to convince their respective juries that Monsanto’s herbicide was the root cause of the plaintiffs’ cancers. Perhaps there are lessons we can learn from these cases that resulted in courtroom wins for the cancer victims.

Justice for Roundup’s Victims

Case 1: Dewayne Johnson

Dewayne Johnson was diagnosed with terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after working at a school for years tending to the grounds, and attributes his illness to long-term exposure to Roundup. In 2018, he became the first person to take Monsanto to trial for its weed killer, attempting to prove to a jury that the agrochemical corporation was to blame for his cancer diagnosis.

During the trial, documents presented in court revealed evidence that the corporation had ghostwritten reports discussing the safety of Roundup and glyphosate and colluded with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to suppress research. Johnson was eventually awarded $78.5 million, and in April 2019 Bayer filed an appeal to throw out the final verdict.

Case 2: Edwin Hardeman

In the first federal Roundup case against Monsanto, Edwin Hardeman claimed that his cancer diagnosis was caused by years of exposure to the herbicide. Hardeman’s trial brought forward several studies that analyzed the chemical makeup of Roundup and its potential link to cancer. After five days of deliberation, the U.S. jury awarded Hardeman $80 million in damages in March 2019.

Case 3: Alva and Alberta Pilliod

Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a married couple in their 70s, were both diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and linked their cancer developments to decades of Roundup use. The Pilliods claimed that Monsanto failed to warn its customers of the health risks associated with spraying Roundup by not properly labeling the product to wear protective gear, like goggles, gloves, or long pants, while handling the herbicide. In May 2019, they were awarded $2 billion by a California jury who found their cancer diagnoses were, in fact, caused by their many years of Roundup use.

Trials in Monsanto’s Midst
New evidence appears to surface reinforcing the probable link between glyphosate and cancer. This past April, Washington State University (WSU) researchers discovered second-and third-generation offspring of rats that were exposed to glyphosate developed a variety of health problems, including prostate, kidney, and ovarian diseases, obesity, and birth abnormalities. This phenomenon, known as “generational toxicity,” suggests that one generation of humans that actively uses Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers can impact the health of their descendants.

As corporations often do, Monsanto and Bayer AG continue to assert that Roundup does not cause cancer or pose a threat to human health. With three court cases down, Roundup’s original manufacturer, Monsanto, still faces thousands of consumer lawsuits ahead. As long as Roundup continues to be used and sold in the United States and worldwide, Monsanto will continue to face those who have been affected by its toxic herbicide.

Families should feel confident their children are safe when they play in neighborhood parks.

 

There are positive actions we can take outside the courtroom! Beyond Toxics is growing our grassroots project, Non Toxic Oregon, a program that supports cities and schools in their effort to adopt organic land care practices. Four Oregon cities: Springfield, Eugene and Talent are transitioning park land to organic land management systems.

In the interest of all of us—the health of working people told to spray pesticides as part of their job and the child rolling on the grass, we must choose a different path. The Monsanto/Bayer trials give us ample proof that the potential risk to cancer and a growing list of serious health abnormalities is too real to ignore.

We encourage you to get involved in these campaigns! If you are inspired by a vision of a future free of toxic risks, please invite us to your city or organization to learn how to bring a Non Toxic approach to land care!

Lisa Arkin, Executive Director

We need a revolution of forest resiliency (not logjam lunacy)

When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned,
you will realize that you cannot eat money
.”
– Cree prophecy

On June 27th, a logjam of logging trucks circled our state Capitol, spreading lies and fear and spewing diesel soot. Big Timber wants you to believe that taking action on climate will deprive Oregonians of forestry jobs. Rather than investing in a future that would place even greater value on our forests, opponents to the Climate Action Policy (HB 2020) are shackled to the illusory past “glory” of unrestrained logging. It’s the same set of devastating practices that brought us to our current seat on the precipice of disaster.

Let’s be clear: no amount of cash for cut logs can compare to the value of clean and abundant water! Beyond Toxics and our allies have spent countless hours speaking out and presenting good science to expose the false choices Big Timber presents via their public relations executives. The very latest scientific research makes clear that Pacific Northwest forests and the soils hold the greatest promise for taking carbon from the atmosphere while also adding new natural resource jobs. Better yet, with selective cutting and longer tree rotations, Oregon could revive the mills that are now shuttered because corporate timber companies make more money by sending big whole logs overseas. Yes, that’s right – big trees are exported to markets overseas while smaller trees are cut, chipped or made into paper and press board here.

Clear cut logging operation at Oxbow Creek in Oregon. Photo by David Tvedt.

 

We can change the extractive and destructive timber corporate investment model with the emerging revolution in forestry management of what we’re calling “resilient forestry.”

A tour of Shady Creek Forest, an example of a forest managed with resilient forestry practices in Lane County. Photo by Lisa Arkin.

By embracing the principles and practices of resilient natural resource management, Oregon can improve both our forests’ capability to resist the challenges of climate change and serve the economic interests of everyday people. We already know that forests are pivotal to solving the climate crisis–now we need to act on that fact! The United States Forest Service (USFS) ranks Pacific Northwest forests (Oregon and Washington) as the most productive for carbon storage (citation). It’s not only our living trees, it’s also the organic carbon stored in our forest soils and inter-connected root structures.

We need to manage forests to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and assign economic benefits to resilient forestry practices. Managing forests for more than the narrow, short-term benefit of tree harvesting, Oregon further gains by protecting air and water quality and ensuring a plentiful water supply for our future needs.

Photo by Kali Lamont.

What’s more, resilient carbon-based forestry allows foresters to stop using aerial herbicide sprays and synthetic fertilizers, destructive practices that broadcast poisons made from fossil fuels into Oregon’s streams and waterways –the same streams that provide Oregonians with 70% of their drinking water.

We need a state climate action plan that has a robust forest carbon storage and ecosystem stewardship component. Nothing could be more dangerous to our economy than over-cutting our private and public forests. We face a dire tipping point where the ability of Oregon’s forests to store carbon is diminished, drinking water is contaminated with bio-persistent pesticides and soils are depleted of the micro-organisms that hold ecosystems intact. Join with us to demand climate and forestry policies that save the exquisitely balanced water and carbon cycles within healthy forest ecosystems.

To learn more about the hope of resilient forestry, check out the videos listed below and be sure to sign up for our next Resilient Forestry Tour in Western Lane County on July 20th! (Registration required)

VIDEOS on the subject by Beyond Toxics

Resilient Forestry: Shady Creek

 

Resilient Forestry: Willow Witt Ranch

 

also:
Aerial Spraying in Oregon Forests