Dorris Ranch is a popular public park in Springfield and one of my favorite places to walk trails through a historic orchard and along the Willamette River. Although I have seen people picking blackberries and foraging for other edible plants and fungi in the forest near the orchard, I have never given much thought to pesticides that might be used there. I have always felt that the public should not have to be concerned about chemical hazards in public places with open access.
Last summer, I noticed that a community member was posting concerns about heavy pesticide use in the orchard on social media. This person also called on the Willamalane Parks District to stop all pesticide use. They reached out to Beyond Toxics and we began communicating with Willamalane Parks and Recreation District managers about the pesticides used at Dorris Ranch and concerns from the public.
The orchard gets a pesticide (Asana XL) application from an air blaster. (Aug. 2021) Photo courtesy of the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Lisa Arkin, Beyond Toxics Executive Director and I met with the concerned community member who raised the issue. They lived in the Springfield neighborhood between the Dorris Ranch orchard and the Willamette River. The neighborhood is beautiful. A few dozen homes have backyards along the property line of the Dorris Ranch hazelnut orchard, divided only by a flimsy chain link fence.
We walked through the neighborhood and chatted with a few residents the evening before the scheduled spray. A few people were aware there was going to be work done in the orchard but were unaware of any details. Considering the proximity of the orchard to the homes during the spray, with only a barrier of a chain link fence, it was apparent that it would be nearly impossible for them to avoid pesticide residue reaching the homes.
Lisa's dog, Rafa, runs in the orchard with one of his companions. Photo by Lisa Arkin
My experience taught me that such pesticide use, along with the inevitable spray drift and the proximity to the neighboring properties represented a significant risk for exposure. We got permission from local residents to set out pesticides drift sample trays in their yards before the spray.
ODA Arrives for Oversight
An Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) investigator was present to observe the orchardist pesticide application on August 3rd and 4th, which was the last pesticide application for the year. For those days the orchardist used an insecticide called Asana XL to treat moths whose larvae can bore into hazelnuts and destroy the nut.
The ODA investigator took lots of photos to document the spray and noted the temperature throughout the day, as pesticides can often volatilize at higher temperatures. The Willamette Valley was under an extreme heat wave during this time.
The investigator noted open windows at homes next to the orchard with fans blowing air inside during the spray. The ODA investigator documented barely legible notes by the orchardist that served as two years of pesticide application records at the orchard.
After The Spray
The next day we collected our sample trays and plant leaf samples from the backyards after the spray happened and sent them to a lab to test for pesticides. When we received the results from the lab, we were not surprised to see low levels of pesticide residue detected on one of the samples. We sent the lab results to ODA to show that pesticide drift had reached the homes outside the orchard. The ODA returned to collect their own vegetation samples from the yard at the same residence where we found drift and also inside the orchard. The resident had since removed the squash plant where we took our samples and the samples collected by the ODA nearly a month later did not detect pesticide residue at the residence. However, high levels of pesticide residue were still present on the orchard trees. This pesticide is labeled to cause skin irritation and there is ZERO tolerance for residue on food and it should not be accessible in a public park.
In September, a month after the last spray, Willamalane reached out to Beyond Toxics and interested community members and invited us to participate in an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the Willamalane Board of Directors about changes in orchard management practices. Committee members included a representative from the National Parks Service, who advised the committee about the historic values of the Dorris Ranch Park and orchard and cultural landscape. A horticulture expert from OSU provided options on Integrated Pest Managament (IPM) practices including pest trapping and monitoring, and less toxic pesticides for each pest throughout the growing season. An organic hazelnut farmer provided a presentation about organic management of hazelnuts through harvest, processing and marketing. Beyond Toxics advocated for better signage and public notice to neighbors and park visitors, better recordkeeping, and most importantly, we focused on developing a community value of non-toxic public spaces.
On December 1, 2021 the AdHoc Committee recommended that the District transition the Dorris Ranch hazelnut orchard to organic management. The Willamalane Board of Directors voted on December 8, 2021 to immediately discontinue using the most hazardous pesticides used in the orchard in favor of less toxic products. They also requested Willamalane staff to obtain further information about the cost of transitioning to organic.
Jennifer Eisele, Pesticide Program Manager, visiting Dorris Ranch Orchard. Photo by Emily Cook.
A New Season, a New Start
As spring approaches, I’ve returned to the trails at Dorris Ranch. I feel so heartened to see the beginning of new life in the orchard. Nineteen acres of blight-infected trees have now been removed and replaced with a variety of blight-resistant baby hazelnut trees. The most immediate benefit will be to reduce the amount of pesticides used at the orchard. I’m looking forward to seeing the other changes still to come. My sincere hope is that, with the involvement of citizen power, Beyond Toxics can help make Dorris Ranch a safer public space for visitors and neighbors, pets and wildlife.
~ Jennifer Eisele, Pesticide Program Manager
Find out more about the panel that will dive into the issue more deeply at the 40th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference: "Water, Pollinators & Public Spaces: A Local Model for Collaborative Pesticide Policy Reform" on Friday, March 4th, from 1:30-2:30 pm.
Did you hear the BIG news? On December 16th, 2021, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission voted 3-1 in favor of establishing the Department of Environmental Quality’s new Climate Protection Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels used in Oregon. Beginning in 2022, this program will help secure a healthy climate future, invest in frontline communities, and hold corporate polluters accountable. And while the final program may not be perfect, it sets in motion a massive statewide effort to reduce emissions from the use of transportation fuels and natural gas utilities. The outcome is transitioning Oregon off of fossil fuels and setting an example for other states to follow.
Here are some key highlights from the new program:
Powerful Public Engagement
A whopping 7,600 comments on the Climate Protection Program (CPP) rules were sent to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), exceeding typical comment period totals by thousands. Noting the severity and urgency of the climate emergency we face, over 70% of these comments were in support of adopting strong outcomes for climate, equity, and the environment without delay.
In response to the tsunami of public comments, the CPP rules were strengthened in the following ways:
Calling for Carbon Sequestration
Also, Beyond Toxics took a strong, loud stance to push Oregon to invest in carbon sequestration! In order to truly mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, we know that pulling down atmospheric carbon and storing it in our soils, trees and vegetation, and waters must be prioritized alongside efforts to ratchet back greenhouse gas emissions. This will not only benefit our climate but also result in better soil health, water availability, and air quality.
During the Environmental Quality Commission's (EQC’s) vote to approve the Climate Protection Program, carbon sequestration took the main stage once again. As a result, the Department of Environmental Quality is going to coordinate with the Oregon Global Warming Commission to discuss opportunities to support carbon sequestration in Oregon’s forests, agricultural lands, and wetlands moving forward.
We expect this important discussion to continue at the EQC’s next meeting in early February.
Grit and Gratitude
Public participation throughout the rulemaking process played a major role in improving the final program. Your written comments as well as your presence and voices at public hearings were critical to strengthening the initial rule package developed by DEQ staff. EQC commissioners heard you. You helped make a difference!
As I reflect upon the past year, I find so many reasons to be hopeful. In doing this work, I find great resolve to keep advocating for meaningful climate action. The Climate Protection Program shows how truly powerful public involvement can be to achieve a stable and just climate future. Thank you for contributing to these outcomes.
And while we celebrate this significant progress for the state, we know our work is not done.
One large omission from regulation by the Climate Protection Program is power plants that burn fossil fuels in Oregon and export electricity to other states--that must be fixed! Continued diligent monitoring and engagement will be required to ensure that this program delivers the promised reductions in climate pollution and investments in environmental justice communities.
Our game plan is to continue our efforts to support and encourage public engagement. We must build upon our success to convince state agencies to go farther, think bigger, act faster and adopt the strongest policies.
~ Grace Brahler,
Oregon Climate Action Plan & Policy Manager for Beyond Toxics
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Let’s be honest--the state of the climate emergency can be downright overwhelming and difficult to face day after day. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints an especially bleak picture: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.”
In 2020, Oregon became the 4th state to phase-out the organophosphate insecticide, chlorpyrifos. This law came about as a result of a 2-year legislative campaign led by Beyond Toxics to ban the use of chlorpyrifos. We fought for a complete ban, and we knew a phase-out was not enough.
Today we celebrate the EPA’s August 18th decision to END the use of chlorpyrifos on all food crops, a ban that will also apply to Oregon.
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.
When Allie McDermott and her partner heard the helicopter blades whirring early on a Sunday morning in March, they were stunned. As they ran up the road to see for themselves they thought, ‘There is no way an aerial spray could be happening on a Sunday!’
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.