A local coalition against aerial spraying of pesticides is hoping to encourage county commissioners and state officials to consider the environmental ramifications of spraying timberlands in Jefferson County.
The group, called the Jefferson County Coalition to Stop Aerial Spraying, formed after local farmers grew concerned over clear cutting and the use of herbicides and pesticides in the timber industry.
“Our farm is downhill from a major clear cut that was done a year ago,” said Ellen O’Shea, a farmer from Eaglemount Farms in Quilcene, and one of the founders of the coalition. “We’re really dependent upon the bumblebees and honeybees and other pollinators. Within days of them spraying, all the bees were dead.”
In February, O’Shea and other farmers teamed up with Kitsap Environmental Coalition to testify in support of Senate Bill 5597, which will establish a legislative work group to develop recommendations for improving the best management practices for aerial application of pesticides on state and private forestlands.
“It’s not enough,” said Chelsea Pronovost, a precinct committee officer with the Jefferson County Democrats, who lives in Quilcene and testified in favor of the bill. “But it is a step in the right direction.”
The bill passed March 4 in a 47-0 vote. Now, the local coalition is focusing their efforts on Pope Resources, which owns and manages about 69,000 acres of forestland on its Hood Canal Tree Farm in Kitsap, Mason, and Jefferson counties.
“The Jefferson County Coalition to Stop Aerial Spraying are asking for profound and immediate action to stop the aerial spraying of Jefferson County by Pope Resources,” O’Shea said. “ In 2018 over 2,000 acres of land was clear-cut and sprayed with toxic chemicals. These chemicals include glyphosate,an extremely dangerous chemical proven to cause cancer in humans and very destructive to our environment.”
Glyphosphate is the active ingredient in Roundup, a widely-used farm herbicide western timber managers use to control woodland weeds.
Adrian Miller, manager of policy and environmental issues for Olympic Resources Management — a Pope Resources company — said that Pope Resources typically only uses herbicides.
“It is a fairly common practice for Pope Resources to aerially apply herbicides when it is necessary to help support the reforestation of the area,” Miller said. “If we aerially spray, it is highly likely that it will be one time over the acre to allow those trees to get a headstart on growing.”
On March 11, more than 50 community members from around the county gathered at the Chimacum Grange for a talk hosted by the coalition, featuring Kai Huschke, Northwest and Hawaii Community Organizer from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nationwide group of grassroots organizers that help smaller communities understand legal rights and face environmental issues.
“We are getting together with the Kitsap Environmental Coalition and are going to be training with CELDF to learn about laws in our state surrounding chemicals and spraying,” O’Shea said.
Currently, Pope Resources is clear-cutting 568 acres surrounding Tarboo Lake, according to Ross Goodwin, a forest practice forester with the Department of Natural Resources.
Goodwin said the chemicals used for spraying are regulated by the state Department of Agriculture.
If Pope Resources plans to aerially spray near Tarboo Lake, the company must go through a permit application first.
“We have not yet made a decision if we’re going to treat that area or not, or with what,” Miller said. “We use a variety of chemicals, depending on what plants are there and what season it is. We do list the chemicals that we use in the permit, which is available for the public to view.”
Residents of Quilcene brought their concerns to the county commissioners during the public comment period March 4.
“It’s frustrating because we have very little jurisdiction over the threats we face today and yet that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility in seeing what we can do,” said Commission Chair Kate Dean. “I think it’s time to reach out to Pope and talk with them.”
O’Shea encouraged commissioners to instate a moratorium on aerial spraying in the county.
Currently, the county does not do any chemical spraying, said public works director Monte Reinders, besides the use of one gallon of chemicals by the county’s noxious weed board to control invasive species.
But O’Shea and Pronovost are hoping the county commissioners could work to take jurisdiction over the issue, by instating a county-wide moratorium on aerial spraying.
“The thing I want people to know is that you don’t have to do spraying in the forest industry,” Pronovost said. “People will say, ‘This community was built on the forestry industry.’ We’re not trying to take away any of those jobs. We’re just saying it doesn’t have to be like this. It wasn’t like this before and it doesn’t have to be now.”