At Monday night’s (August 11), City Council meeting, the Council unanimously approved an interlocal agreement formalizing what has been the ongoing arrangement between the Kitsap County Noxious Weed Control Board and the City of Bainbridge Island, in which KNWB provides weed education and noxious weed eradication assistance. More controversially, the Council also unanimously approved a second, related bill giving KNWB permission to apply herbicides on city-owned property and rights of way.
During public comment, Islander Erika Shriner expressed her concerns about such applications, referring specifically to glyphosates, one of the components of Roundup and other herbicides, and a 2013 peer-reviewed report linking glyphosates to nutritional deficiencies and systemic toxicity as well as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, cancer, infertility, autism, obesity, allergies, and other health conditions.
But Dana Coggon, the Program Coordinator of KNWB, who introduced the two bills to the Council, argued that, without the use of herbicides, they cannot put up an adequate fight against noxious weeds, a fight that is required by the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 17.10).
Coggon said that there are 168 noxious weeds to target. She gave the example of knotweed, which she described as growing from 7 to 10 feet tall, with an “immense root system” that extends 30 feet from the parent plant within a single season. She said that one of the control tools available to them now, mowing, actually helps spread knotweed. She said, “The plant loves that.”
She brought visual aids to her presentation including tansy, a tall yellow flower. She explained that tansy causes cirrhosis of the liver and said that, as with knotweed, mowing spreads it.
Pulling the plants isn’t enough either, she said, because a little bit of the root system remains and then begins to spread.
Coggon, who has a Master’s Degree in Wheat Science and who, she said, has studied the path of herbicides in plants, described the process KNWB follows to eradicate plants such as knotweed and tansy. She said first they top the plants and bag them. This step discourages bees from landing on the plants and then transporting the herbicides back to the hive. Then they pull as many of the plants as they can. Finally, licensed applicators use backpack sprayers to target the plants with herbicide multiple times throughout the year.
She described the weeds as a cancer and said that the herbicides are like “a little chemo” to get rid of the cancer.
She said KNWB would follow the rules of Bainbridge Island for herbicides, just as they have been in their fight against knotweed: posting notice 48 hours in advance of the application, staying on site until the application dries to answer questions, and then returning 24 hours later to pull the signs.
Coggon then pointed out that landowners can apply pretty much whatever they want (as long as the products are labeled by the Washington State Department of Agriculture) to their properties on the Island. She described how she once saw a woman on the Island applying an herbicide while wearing shorts and sandals, something that the warning label on the product clearly warned against.
Some other noxious weeds targeted by KNWB are giant hogweed, knapweed, purple loosestrife, hydrilla, and parrotfeather. KNWB reports that loosestrife has invaded wetlands in 48 states, costing about $45 million per year in control measures and in lost forage crops.
The bill approved by the Council says that the herbicide applications will begin “this summer/fall.”
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Photo of tansy ragwort by brewbooks.