louis martin
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Mendocino County--

Anything with the power to kill is sure to cause distrust and unease. If not banned outright, such a thing is regulated. Guns and automobiles are good examples. They are regulated--too much according to their manufacturers, not enough according to some citizen groups. Likewise, pesticides. What can kill a rat or a tree, or a mouse or a blade of grass, can kill you too, say some. It is all a matter of correct usage, others claim.

``People are concerned about having toxic chemicals in their environment,'' said Greg Krouse of Neighbors Against Herbicides. Most recently it has been the use of Garlon--or its parent chemical triclopyr--that has unsettled some Comptche residents. Over the Summer a number of residents developed mysterious flu-like symptoms that led Krouse to suspect the use of Garlon in timber lands near Comptche.

``These people,'' said Krouse, ``were generally in areas that were bordering harvested timber areas. There was a major clear cut, followed by spraying; and more recently it was burned.''

So far, nothing has been proven one way or the other.

At issue is public health and the health of the environment, and the use of Garlon. The matter has come up a number of times since 1985, according to Agricultural Commissioner Dave Bengston.

Now it has come before the Mendocino Forest Council, a group appointed by the Mendocino Board of Supervisors to study forest issues. The council met December 4 of last year, and they will meet again January 10.

The use of Garlon has risen dramatically in the last few years. In 1989 almost no land was treated by timber companies. By 1994 almost 9,000 acres were treated.

But according to Bengston, it is not one of the ``hot'' pesticides that are being used in the county. Others, such as organo-phosphates, cause him more concern, he said. He is sympathetic to those who are concerned but said he places more value on the opinion of those with a Ph.D in chemistry.

``Most herbicides,'' said Bengston, ``don't have long-term toxic effects toward animal life.'' Most, he said, are directed towards weeds. ``I can think of a few herbicides that are `hot' with respect to workers and worker safety,'' but triclopyr is not one of them.

Garlon has been shown by most studies to be relatively safe if used ``according to directions,'' but Neighbors Against Herbicides does not trust it. Krause said that studies were either done by Dow Chemical, which he does not trust, or by research financed by Dow. He claims research has been inadequate or poorly done.

Said Krouse of the herbacide manufacturers, ``They can do these little minute regulatory things--do three or four basic studies to get minimally registered--at which point it becomes physically impossible to get them (the pesticides) out.''

Krouse claimed that if the data is falsified to get approval, it is ``still difficult to get them out because someone has to prove that the data is false.'' That he said happened with Agent Orange and Roundup.

The Mendocino Forest Council is studying the issues. However, any resolutions passed by the Forest Council will have no legal effect.

Currently State law does not allow counties to regulate the use of pesticides.'' There are some exceptions that can be exercised by the Agricultural Commissioner, but there are not many. ``You can't go out and take away a whole class of chemicals,'' said Pete Passof, Forest Advisor Emeritus with UC Davis and a member of the Forest Council.

Pesticides use is regulated by the Federal EPA, and in the State of California pesticides are further regulated by the State EPA. The California EPA has stricter regulations than the federal agency, and it's laws have been around longer.

It is hoped, however, that a local resolution might influence State or Federal officials. Furthermore, Passof said the Forest Council meetings offer an opportunity for all sides in Mendocino county to ``vent and get their concerns out and have them be listened to by another group.''

He said one hope is that CDF might take a more active role in pesticide regulation in Mendocino county. That is because in Mendocino county pesticides are being used in timber lands, not just farm lands.

In order to maximize growth of conifers--in particular, Redwoods and Douglas Fir--timber companies are trying to rid their lands of hardwoods, especially Tan Oaks.

There are two methods used to get rid of hardwoods and make room for conifers: cutting and chipping the oaks, and using herbicides to kill them. The problem with cutting and chipping, said Passof, is that's not always economical. It depends on the price of chips. Therefore, the timber companies want the option of using herbicides when chip prices drop.

When herbicides are used in the fields, they do not receive the notice they get in the woods, where a whole hillside may turn brown when trees die. When use increases, as it has in the last couple of years, the public is sure to notice. Bengston said in 1994 he got between 50 to 60 calls from citizens over the use of Garlon. The Forest Council also received a petition with 18,000 signatures.

While Bengston does not consider Garlon particularly hazardous compared to some other chemicals in use, he nevertheless said, ``People have a right to be concerned.''

But he said that his office has not found violations in the use of Garlon in the county. ``It is being used properly like it's supposed to be used.'' But he said, ``I don't want to take away people's rights to be concerned and have their own perspective.''

One problem, according to Bengston, is that citizens ask questions that are charged with emotion, and chemical manufacturers ``respond in science.'' That does not produce understanding or a resolution of the issues.

``If somebody has a fear that they're being hurt by the pesticide--if that's their perception--then that's a valid perception.'' That is something that has to be dealt with, said Bengston. He said the same problem has arisen before in fruit fly eradication projects. ``No more is that aspect ignored; the perception is the reality, almost,'' he said.

As a regulator, he said, the timber companies and chemical manufacturers ``want me to be a spokesperson'' for them. But he said he won't do that. Instead he has urged them to go to meetings and present their views.

As it currently stands there is little or no coordination between adjacent landowners when they use herbicides. ``What happens,'' asked Passof, ``when four major landowners go out in the same area?'' Both Bengston and Passof believe that more coordination would be helpful.



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