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The state's approval of a Klukwan Inc. permit to use helicopters to spray herbicides on clear-cut land has some skeptics fearing that the precedent means there's more spraying ahead.
The plan to spray herbicides on 2,000 acres of Long Island near Hydaburg in the southern part of the Panhandle is opposed by some Native groups and environmentalists concerned about possible contamination of subsistence food and wildlife.
Klukwan plans to spray the herbicide brands Arsenal and Accord, with the active ingredients imazapyr and glyphosate, respectively. The state approved the plan this week.
The spraying will take place over the course of a couple of days in July and August. It is a one-time permit, requiring the Native corporation to reapply for future sprays.
The herbicides are intended to control the growth of salmonberry and red alder, which compete with young trees for water, nutrients and sunlight, the Department of Environmental Conservation said.
Klukwan's aerial spraying application in 2004 triggered public hearings throughout the region.
Aurah Landau of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council said she's concerned the decision marks the beginning of public acceptance of aerial herbicide spraying.
She contends studies on the safety of the chemicals failed to consider Alaska-specific issues such as the potential effects on subsistence resources and commercial fishing. It also is unclear what kind of impact the two chemicals will have when sprayed together, Landau said.
The state evaluated the risk to the environment and the potential danger of combining the two poisons, said state pesticides program manager Kim Sticklan. She said the state considered public testimony, coordinated with nine federal and state agencies and reviewed more than 100 studies related to the two chemicals before approving the permit.
"We share the public's concern over the use of pesticides," she said.
According to DEC's final decision, both chemicals are safe because ingested chemicals are excreted by mammals "fairly quickly." The report also said glyphosate could affect birds and other wildlife through reduced habitat, but there are no significant effects of glyphosate itself. Imazapyr also is not highly toxic to birds or animals, the report said.
Stricklan said the state has issued only three permits for aerial spraying of pesticides in the past 30 years.
According to DEC, a 100-foot buffer zone will be required around all bodies of water and wetlands.
Those opposing the permit have 30 days to appeal. Appeals are decided by the department commissioner.
"I expect that different groups will challenge the permit," Landau said. "I don't know what SEACC will do."