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  • Jessica Randall

Jefferson County Commissioner Opposes Herbicides in Forestry

On October 9, 2019, Jefferson County Board of Commissioner Kate Dean spoke at the SSB 5597 Legislative Workgroup meeting:

“Thanks for inviting me, and special thanks to the Suquamish people for sharing their land with us today.

As you know, Counties have little jurisdiction in regulating pesticides. We have plenty of other thorny issues to tackle, so we generally let state and federal agencies do their work.

But this issue was a little different. This past summer, many residents came to the County Commission with concerns about Pope Resources plans to spray herbicides on hundreds of acres. Jefferson County, like many counties, is seeing increased development at the interface with commercial forests. This development includes many drinking water wells. We have hundreds of miles of shorelines and wetlands that we are mandated to protect. And we have a highly aware and engaged environmental community. So the County Commission decided to do some research and take a position.

We don’t pretend to be scientists but we are policy makers who rely on good data to do analysis. We spoke with many of our state agencies, environmental groups, Pope Resources, water quality researchers and other local governments. What we learned is clear as mud, as you well know. That the regulatory frameworks, science and policy options are indeed debated and politicized. And that there is no clear consensus.

So we went with what we do know. The World Health Organization considers glyphosate a probable carcinogen. And as our presenter said this morning, we don’t understand the interaction of all the chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis- air pollution, pesticides, synthetic food additives, heavy metals, chemicals in body care products, cleaning products. We live in a chemical soup with little understanding of how these interact.

And we know that the number of reported cases of inflammatory syndromes and autoimmune diseases are increasing, and that little is understood about how and why this is happening. I’m also not a doctor, so I don’t meant to suggest causation here, but with some cancers and chronic illnesses increasing, I’d suggest that the precautionary principle is in order.

And for the record and as an aside, as an avid bicyclist and electric vehicle advocate, I did suggest that perhaps we should outlaw internal combustion engine cars, as well. This was not a popular idea.

My Board of Commissioners sent a letter to this working group, many of the state agencies represented here today, and Pope Resources. In summary, this letter requested the following:

- That research is conducted on alternatives to using glyphosate and other known carcinogens;

- That best management practices for these alternatives are developed;

- That a simple water quality monitoring protocol be implemented so that local governments can be tracking impacts and incidence of pesticides, particularly given the gap in information regarding impacts to the shellfish industry, which is very important in this region;

- That public notification be required before spraying herbicides;

- That aerial spraying is prohibited due to its potential for imprecise application.

To be clear, we value forestry as a critical component of our economy, culture, and environment. But we live in changing communities and landscapes. As more people are pushed out to rural regions, compatibility issues will arise. While governments will use land use to minimize incompatibility, the forestry industry (just like government and every other sector) will need to modernize methods to manage this changing landscape.

Being in the business of thorny issues, I have a few litmus tests that I use to inform policy decisions I need to make. And one is the test of time. How will we look back on this time and this decision? What decision will put us on the “right side of history”?

While synthetic chemicals have improved productivity and efficiency since we began our love affair with them following World War II, they are not without harm. We are in an adolescent phase of embracing them without truly acknowledging the potential cumulative and long-term impacts. I suggest that given the viable alternatives to aerial spraying, including manual control and backpack spraying, which are commonly used in commercial forestry already, that aerial spraying of known and suggested carcinogens will not stand the test of time. That we will look back on this practice, as we do spraying worlds fair goers with DDT or burying thousands of tons of industrial toxins near residences in Love Canal.

Thank you all for taking on this challenging issue. It is heartening to see policy being considered thoughtfully and with many perspectives represented. Please consider local governments as stakeholders as we are often literally at the interface we are discussing here today. I’m happy to answer questions today or be a resource in the future.”

And thank you, Commissioner Dean.

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