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News: 06/15/2019

Kenwood parks, county properties to see end of pesticide use

On Tuesday, June 4, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved robust restrictions on the use of synthetic herbicides, insecticides and fungicides on county-maintained properties. The new regulation applies to all campuses, sidewalks, playing fields, plazas, playgrounds, and libraries owned and managed by county departments, including Sonoma Water, the Agricultural and Open Space District, the Community Development Commission, Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works, and Sonoma County Regional Parks.

The ordinance, effective immediately, will require departments to develop a specific list of “no synthetic spray zones,” presented to their boards for approval, by the end of 2019.

As part of the county’s updated Integrated Pest Management Program, a map of no spray zones will be published for the public. Staff for each agency will also report annually on pesticide use and Permit Sonoma will prepare an annual report on countywide pesticide use in county operations.

In Kenwood, the new regulation has the potential to affect weed abatement and vegetation management methods at both Shaw Park and Kenwood Plaza Park, which are owned by Regional Parks, as well as at parts of Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen.

“Regional Parks has discontinued using any synthetic herbicides for routine maintenance of vegetation, consistent with the Board of Supervisors resolution,” said Bert Whitaker, director of Regional Parks. While not an outright ban, as the regulation does leave a little leeway for synthetic pesticide use to target “specific weed infestations where non-chemical means are ineffective,” the agencies and their contractors will be required to eliminate pesticide use in all areas “to the maximum extent practicable.”

“I genuinely feel that it is not a departure from our current practices but supports and reinforces us in the direction we were already headed,” said Hattie Brown, natural resource programs manager for Regional Parks. “We care about human health, not only that of a park visitor, but of our personnel, as well.”

The Transportation and Public Works Department (TPWD) has a trial of roadside vegetation management using certified organic alternatives already underway, said Dan Virkstis, public affairs program manager for TPWD. Sonoma County has the largest road network in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the largest road network per capita. TPWD is responsible for maintaining 1,383 miles of roads in Sonoma County, as well as the Sonoma County Airport. The department’s vegetation management program includes a combination of mowing, pruning, clearing for sight distances, improving drainage, and preventing noxious weeds, which can obstruct critical roadway safety features and cause other safety issues such as flooding, he said.

This new resolution comes at a time the county is expanding its vegetation management efforts to head off wildfire danger.

“Because the mowing season is relatively short due to the risk of fire, this makes it difficult to reach all of our roads,” said Virkstis.

Generally, the organics cost significantly more because they require more applications, he said.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin and Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins led the two-year charge (with a hiatus for fire recovery) to get the resolution before the board this month.

“I’m thrilled this will actually mean we will have transparency around the use of pesticides by county agencies in Sonoma County,” said Hopkins, referring to the “no spray map” and annual report.

This is an important step for the county, said Supervisor Gorin, “symbolically, certainly, and in substance, we want to make sure that we are walking the talk as we look at sustainability and preparing our earth for the future.”

In 2018, at the request of a coalition of community advocates, the county stopped spraying synthetic herbicides on the county campus. The city of Santa Rosa banned the use of synthetic herbicides at dozens of parks, buildings and medians in August 2018. Windsor banned all synthetic pesticides within its city limits in September 2018 and Sonoma banned specifically glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, from its city limits in April of this year.

Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.

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