To the Editor:
The City of Oakland will be reconsidering it previous tight ban on the use of herbicides within city limits to accommodate the demand by Council Member Jean Quan for the spraying of herbicides in hill parklands as a fire prevention measure.
After reading the seven-page Proposed Resolution on Ms. Quan's web site, www.jeanquan.org/, I noticed a couple of interesting things. The two herbicides suggested for use are called glyphosate and triclopyr. These have the chemical formulas of N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine and [(3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridinyl)oxy]acetic acid, respectively. They sound quite tasty little menu items, huh? It should be noted that any chemical with toxicity for plants will also have some level of toxicity for animals, since plants and animals are all made from quite similar basic biological building blocks.
No where in this proposed Resolution is there any mention of the possibility of using controlled burns (controlled fires) to lower the potenial vegetation fuel buildup in these hillside parklands. Controlled burns have several advantages: 1. there is no use of toxic herbicides and thus there is no possibility of herbicides leaching into the ground water and down towards the Bay; 2. if done carefully and with a practiced eye of weather conditions (burns conducted under best conditions: i. e., with cloud cover, moderate humidity, low wind and moderate temperatures), they can be safely done and would yield good results; 3. Oakland City firemen and firewomen would get excellent real-time practice and training in dealing with wildfires in the hills; and 4. controlled fires would mimic Mother Nature's natural processes which include wildfires.
There are additional expenses involving the use of herbicides: a qualified herbicides consultant (also called an Intergrated Pest Management consultant) would charge $124,000 per year.
The proposed Resolution speaks of hand "painting" the herbicides on the Eucalyptus stumps, claiming that this method would avoid any leaching into the soil and subsequent runoff in rain water. However, the recent newspaper story talked of use on Broom. The Broom plants are shrubby in nature and do not have a single well defined stump the way a tree does. The proposed Resolution also speaks of attacking Acacia trees, Elm trees, Holly shrubs, Cotoneaster shrubs, Gorse shrubs, Italian Hawthorn, Pampas Grass and Himalayan Blackberry. There is no discussion of how the "stumps" of these mostly shrubby plants would be dealt with.
I suggest that this Proposed Resolution be tabled until the unexplored alternative of controlled burns by Oakland Fire Department personnel is fully explored.
James K. Sayre
21 February 2005
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