Dorris Ranch Orchard: New Season, New Start

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

Willamalane Responds

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.   

 

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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.

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Time to celebrate Oregon’s climate action success!

 

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:

  • Science-based emissions reduction targets for oil companies, "natural" gas utilities like Northwest Natural and Avista, and major industrial facilities to cut their climate pollution in half by 2035. This presents opportunities to innovate, propelling Oregon toward a clean energy future.

  • Improved public health and resiliency for communities in Oregon most harmed by burning fossil fuels and climate change. Reducing harmful pollution can save Oregonians billions of dollars annually by avoiding health impacts such as lost workdays to asthma and respiratory effects, to heart attacks and hospital visits, to fatal outcomes.

  • Investments in clean energy projects to support job creation, a strong economy, and cleaner, cheaper, healthier energy and transportation options in communities of color, tribal, low-income, rural and coastal communities across the state.

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: 

  • The “cap” placed on oil companies and fossil gas utilities to reduce their emissions was made more aggressive to require 50% reduction by 2035 and 90% reduction by 2050. Previous versions of the CPP rules included a reduction of just 45% by 2035 and 80% by 2050.

  • The final program sets emissions targets for major industrial facilities covered by the program to cut their climate pollution in half by 2035. Previous drafts of the CPP rules failed to set mandatory reductions for these emissions sources.

  • The program will fund up to $500 million annually in Community Climate Investment (CCI) projects to support cleaner, cheaper, healthier energy and transportation options in communities of color, tribal, low-income, rural and coastal communities across the state. DEQ strengthened rule language to make it clear these investments would prioritize environmental justice communities.

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

Old Growth

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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