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A coalition of environmentalists including WildEarth Guardians is appealing a government plan that would use herbicides to kill weeds in the Santa Fe and Carson national forests
A coalition of environmentalists is appealing a government plan that would use herbicides to kill weeds in the Santa Fe and Carson national forests.
The U.S. Forest Service's Invasive Plant Control Project would also incorporate nontoxic methods to target more than 7,300 acres of nonnative plant populations over the next decade.
Environmentalists acknowledge the importance of controlling weeds that push out native plants, increase erosion and degrade wildlife habitat. But herbicides pose health risks, they say. Opponents are particularly concerned with part of the plan that would essentially lift an 18-year ban on the use of herbicides in the Santa Fe and Las Vegas municipal watersheds.
"We all agree that invasive species are not great for the ecosystem and may need to be treated," said Joanie Berde, volunteer coordinator for Carson Forest Watch. "But there's so many alternatives that don't involve herbicide use."
The Forest Service Invasive Plant Control Project has been in the works since 2000, and after environmental reviews and public input, Forest Service officials approved it in September. Berde's group is one of 21 environmental organizations and individuals who signed off on an administrative appeal filed with the Forest Service on Monday. The appellants want the Forest Service to withdraw its decision and focus on alternatives that don't incorporate herbicides.
But Forest Service officials say the herbicides that they would use are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, would be carefully applied and would pose little threat to humans and wildlife.
"What it really comes down to is we really didn't see anything in the information we had that the risk of using herbicides is any higher than using another method that would be less effective," said project planner Sandy Hurlocker. "So the fact is that without herbicides, we're not going to be able to do the job as well as we want."
The Forest Service plans to treat between 300 and 800 acres annually, beginning as early as this spring. There will be no aerial spraying, and those involved in the project stress herbicides will be used in conjunction with other weed-controlling measures, including hand pulling, mowing, prescribed fires and controlled grazing.
The Forest Service has no immediate plan to use herbicides in municipal watersheds, according to Hurlocker. The plan simply gives the Forest Service an option to use herbicides- with municipality approval- when other methods are deemed ineffective, he said.
"What (the plan) does is give us a jump-start. If and when we find a plant population, we will be able to start right away working with municipalities in order to treat, if we need to, those populations with chemicals," Hurlocker said.
The pending appeal argues that the Forest Service's environmental studies did not adequately address potential environmental impacts of herbicides and failed to consider "the reasonable alternative of prevention."
Cars, pack animals, off-road vehicles and hikers can all carry weed seeds into the forest. Opponents also argue that ecosystem-degrading activities approved by the Forest Service- cattle grazing, oil and gas development, and logging, for example- also contribute to weed infestations. In that context, the invasive plant control plan simply treats symptoms of the Forest Service's "dysfunctional land management" policies, according to WildEarth Guardians executive director John Horning, another appellant.
"They're basically ignoring the link between the habitat- degrading activities and increasing nonnative (plant populations)," he said.
If the administrative appeal is unsuccessful, Horning said the environmental groups would likely continue their fight with a lawsuit.
Copyright 2005 Albuquerque Journal - Reprinted with permission