Why am I weeding a watershed?

Photo of Weed Pull Volunteers - Sept. 30, 2014 - Lisa Arkin pictured far right (front)

Photo of Wild Weed Pull volunteers – Sept. 30, 2014 – Lisa Arkin pictured far right (front)

I just spent a large chunk of the day bent over patches of meadow knapweed with a sickle in my hand. Why in the heck am I spending a day swiping at an invasive weed near a river when I have plenty of weeds crying out for attention in my own yard? I do it because there is a lot at stake in one small, humble project to keep herbicides out of the Siuslaw watershed.

This is Beyond Toxics’ 4th year to care for an 8-mile stretch of rural scenic Highway 36.  Much of the road stretches through the Triangle Lake area and along Lake Creek and other tributaries of the Siuslaw River. We have adopted this area as a “No Spray” Zone to offer a community project as an alternative to conventional highway management practices.  We are very grateful to the volunteers who come out twice a year to make this project successful!

When I am out in the Triangle Lake Valley, I feel happy because I’m looking at beautiful scenery, enjoying the hands-on work, and knowing that, together with other volunteers, we are embodying true environmental stewardship.

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Christine Cameron, Development and Events Manager for Beyond Toxics, enjoyed her first Wild Weed Pull.

This autumn is a particularly critical period to continue the No Spray project.  After three successful years of partnering with the State of Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the state agency tried to force Beyond Toxics to sign what we considered to be an illegal contract.  We refused to sign it.  The contract attempted to assign the state’s liability to a small non-profit! The contract forced us to assume liability for things like damage to highway signs, vehicular accidents and fallen trees!  Gosh!  Really? We’re only trying to be good civic participants and do hand weeding to keep highly toxic herbicides away from school bus stops and salmon rivers. Finally, after much haggling, ODOT granted a one-year extension of our “weeding only contract.” I’m curious why ODOT is more obstructionist than supportive for a community partnership.

Back to the question … why is a crew of volunteers out along a scenic highway on a sunny fall day looking for knapweed?  Normally, ODOT sprays hundreds of gallons of herbicides along thousands of miles of roads.  They spray to kill weeds.  In Oregon, a majority of the roads run alongside streams and rivers.  Think about it:  Highway 126 and the McKenzie River; Highway 84 and the Columbia River; Highway 138 and the Umpqua River; Highway 42 and the Coquille River, and others.

This means that, every time ODOT sprays each side of the highway, herbicides and chemical additives are making their way into our watersheds. They don’t stay in one place. With rain, these toxic chemicals always make their way into Oregon’s streams and rivers. And that means these toxins can poison drinking water and fish habitat.

Isiah holds up Knapweed during his first Weed Pull adventure!

Isiah holds up Knapweed during his first Wild Weed Pull adventure!

In many cases, there are alternatives! In our project’s successful, 4-year track record on Highway 36, there was a large patch of knapweed so thick it took a team of 8 people 3 hours to eliminate the weeds.  Then we tried covering it with shade cloth for two years and then reseeding it with native grass seed.  Wow! What a success! This year there was hardly any knapweed on that stretch of roadway.

One community model project can make a difference!  If we can succeed, other communities might step forward and create projects to protect their watersheds and drinking water.

Can you help us take a stand against the pressure from big chemical corporations and the inflexible attitude from ODOT?  One by one, communities across the state can do the right thing. And keep doing it–until finally ODOT realizes that blanketing the state with herbicides is not going to stop weeds from growing and is not the environmental stewardship that we Oregonians value and deserve!

Please call our office: 541-465-8860 or email us: events@beyondtoxics.org to get involved! The next trip to Triangle Lake is Saturday, October 4!


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