Friday, May 02, 2014

Ashland Municipal Airport (S03), Oregon

Parks workers seek increased herbicide use
County, state tell Ashland to tackle invasive weeds

Ashland Parks and Recreation Department workers are asking for a loosening of a virtual ban on herbicide use, saying they can't keep up with weed growth on city properties.

"We are losing a battle," said Parks Director Don Robertson.

Workers have asked the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission to let them spray herbicides on city properties they maintain, including street medians, parking lot landscaping and the Ashland Municipal Airport.

Commissioners are seeking public input on the issue in various venues, including during a May 19 commission meeting that starts at 7 p.m. in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

The parks department is in its fourth year of a policy that bans most chemical herbicide use. Workers and volunteers have been pulling weeds by hand and parks employees also use organic herbicides.

Robertson said residents, including business groups and service organizations, have stepped forward to help in parks. But there are safety issues involved in having volunteers pull weeds from city parking lot landscaping and street medians. People are also less willing to volunteer outside parks.

Three years ago, the parks department lost a landscape maintenance contract with then Ashland Community Hospital because workers could not use chemical herbicides to control weeds, Robertson said.

The parks department also has received a letter from Jackson County and the state saying that Ashland needs to do more to control invasive Japanese knotweed and leafy spurge.

An aggressively invasive plant, Japanese knotweed can crowd out native vegetation and degrade animal habitat. Parts of the plant can break off, float down streams such as Ashland Creek and Bear Creek, and create new infestations.

The plant is a fire hazard during the dormant season, according to the state of Washington Department of Ecology.

Leafy spurge has seeds that can float to infest waterways. The plant can reduce the cattle-carrying capacity of pastures and rangeland by 50 to 75 percent, according to the Colorado State University Extension Office.

Organic herbicides only kill the top of the plants, while chemical herbicides can kill their roots, said Ashland Parks and Recreation Landscape Division Manager Anne Thayer.

Parks workers are allowed to use chemical herbicides on a traffic median on Main Street near the north entrance to town. Commissioners previously granted that exception because of safety issues caused by cars speeding past workers in the median.

Workers also have been able to spray the dirt infields of the baseball fields at North Mountain Park.

Earlier this week, commissioners also voted to allow chemical pesticide use in the bullpen area of the ball fields where pitchers warm up, and on the dirt warning tracks of the fields.

Outfielders who are chasing flying baseballs rely on the feel of dirt warning tracks under their feet to alert them that they are about to crash into outfield fences.

Parks workers are not asking to increase herbicide use in other areas of parks.

Among other steps, the Parks Department has been working to reduce the number of areas that need weeding on park land by paving beneath bleachers, park benches, fences and other areas.

It has also been using community service work crews to help battle weeds.