My Turn: Consider facts before opposing herbicide

Posted: Monday, June 28, 2004

The Long Island Trust, a subsidiary of Klukwan Inc., has applied to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for an aerial spray permit on its land holdings in Southeast Alaska. The purpose of this project is to eliminate alder and salmonberry growth that has invaded productive conifer sites after logging. The proposed herbicides for use are glyphosate and imazapyr. Glyphosate is the active ingredient found in Roundup, a common backyard weed killer available in hardware stores. Neither one of these chemicals was included in a recent court injunction in the Lower 48 that requires mandatory buffers.

Although the DEC has issued several aerial spray permits in the past this is only the second one applied for pertaining to private forestland application. Consequently, much concern has been expressed by parties who are either misinformed about herbicide use or are simply interested in stopping this type of weed control. In their arguments, they conveniently site excerpts from legitimate, peer-reviewed studies out of context or simply ignore them altogether. Some facts, however, need to be stated:

• Both of these herbicides are classified by the EPA with the lowest toxicity rating.

• The DEC has established strict regulations for their application, including wind velocity limits to reduce drift potential.

• They break down quickly to an inert composition and don't leach through the soil.

• They have been well researched and tested; no link to cancer has ever been shown.

• When used as required, they have no known effect on insects, fish or animal life. They are also ineffective on many types of plants.

• They are commonly used throughout the forest industry; hundreds of thousands of acres are treated annually in the Pacific Northwest alone.

• Sensitive areas, such as eagle nests and Native historical sites, as well as all streams and water bodies, will be buffered for additional protection. Spraying would not be conducted within 330 feet of eagle trees, one-half mile of historical sites and at least 85 feet from streams

• Alder is not a commercially viable species in Southeast Alaska because of its growth characteristics at this latitude.

• The project site is located on private property, on an island, 20 miles from the nearest habitation. This land is not open for public subsistence use.

We considered alternatives to spraying before deciding that this is the only way to effectively deal with the invasive alder growth. The alder is 30-40 feet tall, the conifers underneath that we are trying to release are 4-10 feet. Cutting the alders down with a chainsaw would simply bury, bend and break the much smaller conifers. They are also too tall to apply herbicides from below, via a backpack sprayer, in hopes of getting the herbicide on the leaves. They number from 1,000-3,000 stems per acre, too many and too small a diameter to possibly treat with a stem injection method. An aerial treatment, using a helicopter flying 20-30 feet above the canopy level, is the only effective way to eliminate this unwanted vegetation.

The project has been carefully considered and no undue risk is being presented to the environment. For those willing to take the time, please consider the facts when formulating your opinion.

• Jim Tuttle is chief forester for Long Island Trust; Tom Crandall is president of Klukwan Inc.

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