Aerial pesticide spraying permit may harm forests

Posted: Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Imagine picking blueberries on a sunny hillside in August. The trees have been cut nearly 30 years ago, but berry bushes, alder and spruce are growing back all over the place.

Now imagine that a timber company has sprayed toxic pesticides over this land from a helicopter. You may not know it, but the berries that you pick and may later bake into a pie for friends and family contain chemicals that are linked to everything from low sperm counts to cancer.

This is exactly what could happen to people in Hydaburg this summer if Klukwan, Inc., a Native corporation, gets the go-ahead from the state to spray Arsenal and Accord over its regrowing forest land in Southeast Alaska. Klukwan's permit application is the result of a new state regulation that, for the first time in Alaska's history, specifically endorses aerial pesticide spraying for forestry purposes. This first permit will be a test case for the rest of the state, as logging companies and agricultural enterprises stand by to hear the answer to this question: Will Alaskans put up with chemical contamination of our forests and waters?

Klukwan's traditional lands are 200 miles north of the land the corporation wants to spray on Long Island, so their people won't be affected by the spraying. Ours will. The Hydaburg community has used Long Island for generations. By unleashing dangerous pesticides over Hydaburg's traditional-use lands during the peak summer gathering season, Klukwan will contaminate the air and water where we fish, hunt and gather berries and plants.

Klukwan's proposed spraying poses serious health risks to our community. Many studies link various pesticides to ailments including cancer, birth defects, Parkinson's disease and reproductive disorders. One study on glyphosate, the active ingredient in one of the herbicides that Klukwan wants to use, reports that people exposed to the substance are 2.7 times more likely to develop nonHodgkin's lymphoma. No science says that these chemicals are harmless. They are, after all, designed to kill. Spraying toxic chemicals over Hydaburg's traditional-use areas becomes a social justice issue when you consider that the Alaska Native community already deals with higher levels of diabetes and cancer.

Yet in Klukwan's permit application, the state says the pesticides used will have no harmful effects, and they'll likely say the same of future permits sought in Alaska. But when our children and wild food sources are at stake, it is not OK to take risks. Remember when the U.S. military used Agent Orange in Vietnam to clear brush in the jungle? We had no idea that this chemical is linked to diseases now suffered by exposed veterans and their families.

Aerial spraying doesn't even make sense from a forestry perspective. The case is shaky behind claims that killing alder and brush speeds spruce regrowth. In fact, a growing body of hard science suggests that red alder may actually aid the growth of larger, more valuable spruce trees. Worse, aerial pesticide spraying is notoriously inaccurate. Studies show that chemicals sprayed from helicopters or planes can drift off-target anywhere from 100 meters to 50 miles.

State administration has already shown that when it comes to pesticides, it cares more about commercial interests than the concerns of local residents, hunters, fishermen, doctors, mothers, and biologists. The agency passed the new aerial pesticide regulations last year without even holding a public hearing. This spring, the state only says it "may" hold one hearing on Klukwan's permit, but in Ketchikan, far from the areas that would be sprayed. They should hold hearings in Hydaburg.

Now is the time to demand clean air and water for Alaska. This problem is not just about Hydaburg; it's about the health of our communities, families, children, and elders. It's about the safety of wild sources of food and water. It's about the marketability and purity of commercial fish stocks. Ultimately, it's about a choice: Are we going to protect our Alaskan way of life, or are we going to adopt Lower 48 standards of crop spraying and water contamination?

• Adrian LeCornu is an administrator with the Hydaburg Cooperative Association.

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