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Oregon Department of Forestry’s “Social License” for Aerial Spray Has Expired

 
Photo of Nehalem Bay, Oregon (above) by Don Best

 

Beyond Toxics continues to stand up for Oregon’s forests, watersheds, and communities. Keep reading to see how we’re moving the mark on pesticide use in Oregon’s state forest lands.

Tank Mixes on State Forest Lands

At the September 8, 2021, Board of Forestry meeting, we presented findings to the Board summarizing herbicide applications on Oregon State Forests from January 1, 2020, to August 30, 2021. Bottom line: in that brief 20-month period, 326 tank mixes were applied to state-managed forest lands, over a third of which were aerial sprays. Check out our first report here.

Nehalem Watershed Case Study

For the November 3, 2021, Board of Forestry meeting, we presented a case study of herbicide impacts in the Nehalem Watershed. We sent the Board a set of maps we created using data obtained from FERNS depicting pesticide applications in the Nehalem Watershed from 2015-2021, including Astoria, Tillamook, and Forest Grove Districts.

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Map 1. The Nehalem Watershed

 

The maps that follow take a deeper look at a few “Case Study Areas” outlined in pink. Our goal was to use this case study focused on the headwaters and other stretches of the Nehalem River to help the the Oregon Department of Forestry and the public visualize where pesticide sprays take place, note their close proximity to important fish-bearing streams, and consider related impacts on Oregon’s iconic salmon and trout populations.

Case Study 1: Headwaters of the Nehalem River

This map shows herbicide applications at the headwaters of the Nehalem River. There were 52 acres sprayed within a 500 foot radius of the river, many of which were adjacent to perennial streams that form the Nehalem River headwaters.

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Case Study 2: Lower Third of the Nehalem River

This next map shows part of the lower third of the Nehalem River, which includes the Astoria District. There were 95 acres sprayed within a 500 foot radius of the river. More than two-thirds of sprays closeby were aerial sprays.

 

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Case Study 3: Perennial Streams

ODF requires a no-spray buffer on perennial streams, so the map for Case Study 3 accounts for a 100 foot no-spray buffer. It must be noted that, despite no-spray buffers, chemicals applied may unintentionally enter waterways--especially in the case of aerial applications. A number of factors including weather and site conditions can cause aerially-applied pesticides to drift into unintended areas, including nearby streams. As shown, the overwhelming majority of sprays touching this 100 foot buffer were aerial sprays.

 

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Pesticides and Fish
As shown above, herbicide sprays of chemical tank mixes are occurring throughout the length of the Nehalem River. The Department of Forestry's spray activity starts in the highest reaches of the perennial streams that form the headwaters of the watershed, which may result in a pattern of cumulative residues in the waters and soils of critical aquatic wildlife habitat. Once in the streams, pesticides can affect fish including salmon in many different ways, including by hindering the olfactory system of juvenile salmon, reducing the ability of juvenile salmon to adapt to saline environments, or disrupting swimming and predator avoidance. And in addition to the known effects of single chemicals, tank mixes of pesticides that are used often have not been tested in their combined state so their true toxicity on fish and aquatic organisms remains unknown.

The Nehalem River is the largest “wild fish only” river on the Oregon Coast and home to several runs of salmon, including one of the healthiest runs of Oregon Coast coho. Oregon Coast coho are a federally threatened species of salmon that have key spawning habitat in this basin. Based on the data we have compiled using the FERNS system, the large majority of the Department’s pesticide sprays in the area take place in the summer, so steelhead juveniles will be hit hard because that is when they emerge. Summer Chinook spawn right at the end of the peak spray season, so their egg development may be affected as well. The biggest effects will be on Oregon Coast coho, cutthroat trout, and steelhead, all of which spend one to two years in the Nehalem as juveniles and will thus be exposed to these toxins for longer than other species that migrate downstream immediately, such as chum salmon.

Pesticides and Climate Change
Finally, we cannot ignore the connection between pesticide use and climate change.

The Pacific Northwest has warmed by about 3 degrees F (or 1.7 degrees C) in the past half-century. Higher temperatures create imbalances in natural systems, causing more outbreaks and damage from pests and invasive weeds. This leads to increased reliance on pesticide use as there are more pests to manage. However, pesticides contribute to the climate crisis throughout their manufacture, transport and application.

While all communities deserve protected, clean drinking water, pesticide use has put dwindling drinking water sources at risk. Warming waters may increase pesticide toxicity, making matters worse for climate-stressed fish and other aquatic life. Additionally, studies show pesticides kill over 70% of the microbial diversity in soils. Mature and old growth trees, diverse vegetation, and healthy soils are needed to maximize the carbon sequestration potential of our forests.

Further, as pollinator populations are declining due to climate change, pesticide use causes additional stress. Recent research indicates high bee abundance and diversity in PNW forests. However, pesticide use can degrade pollinator habitat, particularly for ground nesting native bees. Exposure to heavily-used glyphosate can harm the development of a pollinator’s gut microbiome, lowering lifespans and decreasing their ability to withstand pathogens.

Why Does Our Data Matter?
It is crucial that ODF manage state forest lands to support resilient, climate-adapted forests that can withstand disturbances and changing conditions. Board Chair Kelly even called chemical spray “an issue of social license” and we agree; following years of toxic pesticide release that has threatened drinking water and important fish and wildlife habitat, the social license for aerial spray has long since expired. Thus, we will keep asking that the Board place a moratorium on aerial herbicide sprays and initiate an evaluation of the full range of impacts of herbicide sprays--particularly aerial herbicide applications--on state-managed forest lands on drinking water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, essential fish habitat, and community health and wellbeing. Onward!

 

Read our testimony to the Board of Forestry for more details and sources (PDF).

Learn more about all our efforts to advance Resilient Forestry

~ Grace Brahler, Oregon Climate Action Plan & Policy Manager

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Stand to Protect Climate, People and Forests

Beyond Toxics does not shy away from tough issues. It takes time, tenacity and creativity to solve problems. For example, we are in our second year of fighting to stop the use of chlorpyrifos in Oregon. We’ve presented two bills that got caught up and swept away by the Republican walk-outs in 2019 and 2020. We followed that with a campaign for a chlorpyrifos phase-out that we expect to be adopted by the end of this year.

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Breathing life into our leaders of color

“I can’t breathe!” One man’s dying words, choked to death by a Minneapolis police officer, has become the rallying cry of our era.

As George Floyd’s murder galvanized some of the largest and sustained protests in United States history, a respiratory pandemic swept through the world. Masked protestors surged in the streets, demanding a world where the right to breath was no longer determined by skin color.

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The Tough Keep Going: Advancing Forest Practices and Pesticide Reform

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.

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The Real Cause Of Division In Communities

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.

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We Need A Revolution Of Forest Resiliency (Not Logjam Lunacy)

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.

Farmworkers deserve better pesticide rules

More than 1 billion pounds of poisonous pesticides are applied on farms annually in the United States, resulting in as many as 20,000 physician-diagnosed poisonings annually among agricultural workers. University of Oregon environmental studies scholar Sarah Wald puts the number of farmworkers exposed to toxic levels of pesticides closer to 300,000, more than 10 times the official number.

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Resigning from GreenLane

Beyond Toxics is proud to have been one of the first nonprofits to join GreenLane Sustainable Business Network, a membership group for businesses and other organizations interested in sustainability. In September, I volunteered to serve on GreenLane’s board on behalf of Beyond Toxics. Unfortunately, as the Eugene Weekly reports in this week’s paper, I will not be serving on the board despite being voted in as an alternate member at the November 8 meeting.

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Beyond Toxics Endorses Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Bill of Rights

At its August 28th meeting, Beyond Toxics’ Board of Directors voted to endorse the Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Alliance’s charter amendment to ban the aerial spraying of herbicides in Lane County.

Oregon lawmakers and state agencies have shown an entrenched resistance to address the problem of toxic exposure to aerial spray drift. The two local charter amendments in Lincoln and Lane counties to ban spray now appear necessary to protect Oregon’s people, wildlife and waters.

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State Forest Agency Suppresses Its Own Aerial Spray Info

Did you know our own Oregon (ODF) is clear-cutting and chemically poisoning public state forest lands, using the same extractive methods as multi-national timber corporations?
The latest herbicide sprays on our public forests took place this month along the Northwest Oregon Coast.

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