GUEST COLUMN – City’s pesticide practices need to be brought into 2021

(Image: City of Kamloops)

Guest Columnist

HEY CITY OF KAMLOOPS: The 1950s called — they want their pesticide policy back. And there’s a memo to remind you about your 2019 Strategic Priority for accountability.

I’ve been a Kamloopsian almost all my life. People know me from school, 4-H and Girl Guides, from my time owning a downtown business and my decades at Cariboo College/TRU, from music, horses and children.

Bronwen Scott.

For my sins, they also know me as a pesticide activist.  I’ve spent the past 40 years learning about pesticide types, uses, effects, laws and alternatives. I’ve conducted pesticide appeals, compiled fact sheets, organized forums, hosted talks and served on boards and advisory committees.

I’ve dealt with all levels of government over the years, but the dystopian plays from City Hall this week floored even me.

Despite my history dealing with bureaucracy, I credulously believed Civic Operations Director Jen Fretz’s written promise to the Kamloops Food Policy Council for ‘several opportunities for the KFPC and the general community to review the City’s pest control plan and provide input subsequent to the [Civic Operations Committee’s] Sept. 27 meeting,’ so I was surprised when the meeting agenda gave the committee no opportunity to discuss or approve any public process.

I wrote to Council to point out this omission. I figured Ms. Fretz would be reminded of her promise and propose an amendment to the agenda. But no. The City’s glossy plan was presented for ‘information’ and that was that. I wonder how a top administrator can make a promise and then so openly renege on it, but maybe that’s just me. Nobody else seemed bothered.

More dystopia ruled during the meeting. Mayor Christian bemoaned people feeding marmots in McArthur Park, saying feeding wildlife disrupts the ecosystem. Strangely, he’s never mentioned any eco-misgivings about the City spraying 440 gallons of a 2,4-D weed killer from a truck-mounted gun across about 20 hectares of McArthur Island last year.

Admin justified the City’s pesticide use by piously invoking the City’s responsibility for invasive weed control. Does it matter that invasive species account for only 6.07 hectares out of a total of about 47.8 sprayed by the City in 2020, or that most ‘weeds’ sprayed are dandelions and plantain, which aren’t on any invasive weed lists?

I felt for Coun. Sinclair, who also got her share of double-speak. She was handed the old ‘spot-spray’ mollifier. But ‘spot-spray’ doesn’t mean what most of us think it means. Rather than a direct application to a very small area, spot-spray in professional terms means spraying only the weedy portions of a landscaped area but not, as in ‘blanket-spray,’ spraying the entire lot, weeds or no weeds.

Far from being just a dab on an individual plant, a ‘spot-spray’ can cover half a hectare or more. But how was Coun. Sinclair to know this, especially when administration adheres to the policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’?

She was also fobbed off with the old ‘we only use pesticides as a last resort’ chestnut, and it was an adamant ‘no’ from City administration when later asked if cost was the major decision factor in using pesticides. They’re right. The City’s individual pesticide records show the City’s single most popular reason to spray pesticides is ‘easier to use chemicals.’

I had to laugh when administration solemnly swore an ‘anti-pesticide compromise’ had been reached when the City passed a bylaw a few years ago banning homeowners from using pesticides. How noble of the City to concede so graciously to a bylaw that bans pesticide use by residents but still allows the City to spray as much as it wants.

After all, in the interest of community health (if that’s why Council enacted the bylaw) it’s imperative City homeowners stop using pesticides entirely to balance the City’s rising pesticide use, from about 3,500 gallons in 2018 to 12,000 gallons in 2020.

Coun. Sarai called Kamloops’ unique tourney capital moniker into question when he wondered if administration knew of any other cities exactly like Kamloops (same climate, same population, same tournament-capital image) that have eliminated pesticide use.

What a relief to discover that Kamloops won’t be in competition with a pesticide-free tournament capital of similar size and terrain that may draw the more health-conscious sports organizations away from our weedless turf.

Watch out, though: In Vancouver, all neighbourhood parks, sports fields and playgrounds are already pesticide-free.

It’s not like we ‘anti-pesticide’ types have ever asked the City to stop using pesticides entirely (even if that’s what we’d like).

We just have misgivings about the City using pesticides like 2,4-D in tot lots. We feel like spraying Roundup on pickleball courts and not notifying anyone isn’t really fair to the users.

We think people should get a say in what kinds of pesticides are allowed in neighbourhoods and public spaces. We agree with the Canadian Cancer Society and Health Canada that pesticides pose a health risk and should be used as sparingly as possible, especially where children play.

And we want to know: Is it 2021 in Kamloops or not?

Bronwen Scott is a Paul Lake resident and long-time advocate for control on the use of pesticides.

About Mel Rothenburger (9357 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

8 Comments on GUEST COLUMN – City’s pesticide practices need to be brought into 2021

  1. There surely is an argument regarding regular 2,4-D use at Mac Park, and definitely room to expose Councils bumbling of the conversation … even a prime opportunity to eye-roll the sidestep regarding ‘the general community to review the City’s pest control plan and provide input subsequent [to the meeting]’ … but generally, one has to consider the choices, and recognise that the City has a budget.

    We live very close to Mac Park, and although the City will bumble about the positives of pesticide use for ‘Tournament Capital’ reasons, I’m thinking more about minimising the impact of the wind carrying weeds from the park to our lawn and garden. Mac Park is basically a weed farm as it is, and regardless of how hard we fight them at home, our weed life has gotten a lot worse since the City stopped using pesticides in the park. That’s just a fact, and our neighbours agree.

    I certainly would argue against annual or more often use of a pesticide like this, but if heavily regulated to allow its use once every 3 or 4 years, once these weeds have built up to the point that other greener removal techniques becomes unworkable, is not unreasonable. Lets keep in mind that anti-pesticide techniques are very, very labour intensive and are hard on a City landscaping staffing budget, once they get out of hand.

    It is not unreasonable for a balance to be achieved between pesticide use and other techniques.
    Maintenance can use other means, but when weeds become unmanageable, pesticides can be used to return us to a more maintenance level. The key would be via Bylaw removing the decision from Council when to use pesticides, and use measurable quantities of weeds (weed per whatever square meter) to trigger pesticide use, and redefine ‘spot pesticide use’.

    Beyond all that I will argue your description of Roundup use.
    It is rhetoric to argue its use on ball courts as dangerous or unhealthy, and your statement is not backed up by independent science. Yes, Roundup is potentially dangerous to the person applying it and great care must be taken, and this stage is where the Monsanto law suits have been regarding its use, and signs must be put up and the courts use should be closed for the day … but it dries within a couple short hours, and once dry becomes completely inert and a non-danger to others, even if re-liquefied by rain, so its actually the perfect use case scenario.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. MacArthur Island has been sprayed every year for the past 6 years according to the city’s records. Hopefully, they will never spray the riparian areas where most of your weed seeds are likely coming from, since it’s illegal to do so, but I empathize with your problem: I pull knapweed, mustard and burdock that comes into my yard from neighbouring areas every year. It’s a hassle. My comment about Roundup had to do with the city refusing to post many areas where they use it. Thanks for supporting the idea that the city should post where they spray. I don’t understand their reluctance. How would public notification hurt anything? And spraying 2,4-D in kiddie parks is just plain wrong, imo. Do you agree that the city should give residents a chance to know in advance about and comment on what pesticides the city uses, and where they use them? If so, please write and let them know what you think.

      • I will comment to the city at that address, regarding this, good idea, I think its important that they have a broad spectrum of views on this.

        The key is live notification of when and where spraying will occur.
        ‘In advance’ is a problem, as the vast majority of residents don’t follow the city or even local news as closely as you or I, so its fair to say that the balance between the effort put into putting this notice out, and the achievement of widespread knowledge, just wont work.

        I would be more inclined towards advocating for a removable notification (signage) system at the site, installed by spray staff when they spray, which can be removed when science says the area is ‘safe’ to walk through or play in. That allows the individual the choice as to whether or not they access the area, or turn around and walk away.

        I will agree that today the rules at the city around notification, and its rules around its own use of pesticide is cloudy and interpretive, and needs clear boundaries that everyone will understand.

        I reject wholeheartedly the reactive response of ‘spraying happened here, so I’ll never go there’ or ‘I wont go there this year’ mentality, and I would repeat that I dont have a problem with having a Bylaw that restricts residents from using pesticides, yet still allows the city to use them. I dont see that as a conflict, as long as they post its use properly, and have clearly understood guidelines regarding pesticide use. Their spraying makes my garden happier.

  2. I must admit that I believe there is a use for judicious use of certain pesticides. However I have to laugh (and concur with the author position) in regards to administration and most of council lack of “leadership”. The excuses and lack of “breadth of thinking” is amateurish and frankly they should be totally embarrassed with what they are saying.

    • Thanks, Pierre. After this week, I’m amazed and depressed in equal measure: If administration won’t be accountable, and Council won’t hold admin accountable, then there is no accountability at City Hall. And the fact that Armchair Mayor is the only local news outlet that even touched this issue is also a concern. I thought the 4th estate had a self-professed duty to hold government to account, but in Kamloops, it seems this is not the case.

  3. Good article; it uncovered a few hidden things that were covered up by some glossy pages.
    Carcinogens have become kind of an acceptable evil. Exposure to them; so what? Until the ugliness of cancer becomes a reality later in life, it’s no big deal.
    Who can prove what caused cancer in a certain person’s life? Could it have been exposure on a playground that was sprayed with insecticide?
    Most of us will be touched by cancer during our lifetime. If we don’t develop cancer ourselves, maybe a loved one will.
    I know of a fellow who developed cancer that was Stage 4 by the time the diagnosis was made. A last ditch effort for a miracle cure came in the form of a super heavy duty chemotherapy in oral form. His appetite was depleted. His skin became so thin and frail he had to cover the lesions with bandaids. His dear wife needed to change their bedding every day because he bled so much in his sleep. It was almost a blessing that his suffering finally came to an end.

    • Thanks for your comment, John. You are correct that many cancers have 20-30 year latency periods. How many times have we lost friends, family and acquaintances to cancer, and all thought ‘wow–X didn’t smoke or drink, ate healthy foods, kept in shape. How did they get cancer?’ But cancer-causers are all around us. I really hope that this Council compels city administration to reduce its public pesticide use, but judging from the past year, and especially this past week, that hope is a very very slim one.

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