Senator Michael Dembrow first championed the rights of rural Oregonians in the matter of aerial herbicide spray exposures in 2014. As Chair of the Senator Environment and Natural Resources Committee, he convened a public information hearing in Dec. 2014 and hosted residents from Curry, Douglas and Lane counties to offer testimony of their experiences with pesticide drift from aerial herbicide spray operations on timber land. For the current legislative session, Senator Dembrow is the bill sponsor of SB 892, a bill that would require advanced warning before an aerial spray and the filing of complete spray records with the Dept of Forestry. There are insufficient words of gratitude for Senator Dembrow and his laser-sharp focus on the critical issues of rural community health and accountability in forest practices. Here is the moving testimony he presented in front of his Senate colleagues on March 22nd at the first hearing for SB 892.
~ Lisa Arkin
March 22, 2017
During my earlier stint as Chair of this committee, I became aware of the serious concerns that many Oregonians have about aerial application of pesticides on forestlands and their fear of being the victims of misapplication.
The specific misapplication that made me aware of this problem was a notorious incident in Curry County that ultimately proved to be a case of misconduct on the part of the applicator. We heard from a number of local residents who were harmed by this misconduct, some really terribly stories.
Any time aerial pesticide drifts into a neighbor’s property, that’s a misapplication and a cause of concern. Neighbors legitimately fear that the application nearby will harm their children, their pets, or they themselves.
Applicators may say that they have no reason to fear, but I would argue that their concern is real and it is legitimate. If an application is scheduled to occur, they should know that and be able to plan for it, taking whatever steps they feel are necessary to make sure that their children and pets are kept indoors or kept safely away from the property.
Ideally, people should be able to receive notification just before the application was going to happen, allowing them to make these plans. In an ideal world they would receive a phone call or a knock on the door, or a leaflet when an application was scheduled or, as often occurs, rescheduled due to weather or other problems. Some timber owners have a practice of doing this, but most do not. And expecting them all to do this kind of personal contact every time would be too much to ask.
But in reality we’re not limited to doing things the old-fashioned way. Thanks to improvements in technology, we have a pathway to providing Oregonians with the notification that they desire, while not putting an undue burden on owners and operators. The Department of Forestry’s new electronic FERNS system is that pathway, and SB 892 as amended will allow us to utilize this technology to give neighbors and visitors to state parks the notification that they need.
We did not have that technology in 2015, but we do now. I’ve been following the development of FERNS over the last couple of years and talking about it with the good people at the Dept. of Forestry. FERNS is designed to collect the information that is already required of landowners, operators, and applicators and available to the public through a paid paper subscriber service. I believe that FERNS will soon be ready to provide the real-time notification that many Oregonians desire, while doing so with minimal impact on forestry owners and operators. While the Department must of course remain neutral on the policy behind SB 892, I believe that you’ll hear from them the details on how FERNS is ready to accomplish these goals.
We’ve drafted SB 892 to be as close to the existing ORS 527.670 and current Board of Forestry rules, to make it easier for industry to adopt the requirements of the bill.
The -2 amendments seek to address some of the concerns that we heard from industry. The landowner, operator, or applicator will file their written plan for an operation with the same information currently in rule. The notification to the Department will include the planned date of the operation. This information will be posted on the FERNS system and made available to all those who have subscribedto the FERNS service. Then, within five days after the operation has been completed, the report on the application, which the operator is currently required to complete, must be submitted to the Department. This will also be submitted electronically, by scan or photograph, or whatever is easiest for the operator.
In an ideal world, the operation will always occur on the anticipated date, and in many cases, they will be able to do the operation on the planned date. But in other cases they will not. Weather, equipment issues, illness can interfere with the best-laid plans. We heard a lot of concern from industry about that. So the bill provides a five-day window for them to do the operation without having to notify the Department of any changes. They can do it two days before the planned date or two days after. If that window doesn’t work, they can submit a new date via FERNS or simply call the department or their forest steward contact. That new information will then go up on FERNS to keep the neighbors up to speed. Or, if the decision is made to cancel the operation entirely, that information will also be communicated as it currently is and posted.
Colleagues, we have heard in the past and you will hear again why this kind of transparency and timely notification is important to people. However you feel about the necessity of pesticide use in our forestland, we can all have a shared commitment to keeping people healthy, safe, and free from worry.
Colleagues, you do not see an emergency clause on this bill because we want to give landowners a lot of lead time to prepare for these modest changes. The operative date for the new system is September 1, 2018, more than a year after what I hope will be the passage of this sensible bill.
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