Forest Herbicide Plan Threatens Basketweavers

The Klamath National  Forest (KNF) plans to reintroduce herbicides on thousand of acres of public land, despite fears of renewed health problems for members of the local Karuk tribe and neighboring residents. The Noxious and Invasive Weed Treatment Project targets 17 species over 27,500 acres of forest on which the Karuk tribe depends.
“The tribe has a policy of no herbicide or pesticide use,” says Renee Stauffer of the Karuk, “but we don’t have a lot of say when it comes to what they [KNF] do on public land.”
The Karuks are the second largest tribe in the state, but have no reservation. Most of the 4,000 square miles of their aboriginal territory is administered by the KNF (78%) and Six Rivers National Forest (19%). “The Karuk are in a particularly unfortunate position in that they have to trust the Forest Service to manage the land in a way that’s compatible with their traditional uses,” says Jennifer Kalt of the California Indian Basketweavers Association.
“We still collect plant material for medicine and food, and for basketweaving,” says Stauffer. Acorns are an important part of the Karuk diet, while basketweavers use maidenhair fern, beargrass, and willow and spruce roots. They fear health risks from contaminated materials.
KNF proposes to apply four herbicides: clopyralid, dicamba, triclopyr, and glyphosate. Clopyralid (sold as Transline) was recently banned for lawn use in Washington state, says Susan Bower, of Citizens for Better Forestry. “Animals that eat the vegetation, even their urine and feces kill plants,” Bower says. The KNF proposes using clopyralid on hundreds of upland acres of yellow star thistle. A Journal of Pesticide Reform report, however, suggests the weed is highly resistant to clopyralid.
Dicamba and glyphosate are suspected carcinogens. In addition, research suggests triclopyr (sold as Garlon) inhibits mycorrhizal fungi, which are vital to soil health. “[So] when they spray and they kill the plant,” says Christine Ambrose of the Environmental Protection Information Center, “they’re also going to be killing the soil.”
KNF officials insist that herbicides would be applied by hand, through controlled spray or sponge applicators. “We won’t be applying herbicides to native vegetation,” says Marla Knight, a botanist at Klamath National Forest.
But, as Ambrose points out, herbicides can spread via soil erosion or evaporation. “When temperatures get up to 85 degrees, [the herbicide] basically vaporizes. Up in the Klamath, we certainly have conditions conducive for drift to occur.”
Health issues may take  second place to the state-wide havoc that invasive species are causing. “Yellow star thistle infests 22 million acres in California,” says Jake Sigg, invasive exotics chair for the California Native Plant Society. Doug Johnson, executive director at California Exotic Pest Plant Council adds, “[Invasive plants] threaten our economy and the healthy ecology of our landscape.” Yellow star thistle, in particular, poisons horses and degrades grazing land for both livestock and wildlife by crowding out native species. “It also consumes groundwater at a time of year when native plants wouldn’t be consuming it,” says Johnson.
But critics charge that the toxics are unnecessary. Further south, the Salmon River Restoration Council has been spearheading non-chemical, community-based noxious weed control for the past ten years [see “Forestry,” p. 28]. It focuses on early detection of weeds, hand removal before weeds go to seed, mulching, and revegetation with natives. Between 2000 and 2003, the program reduced one of the worst infestations of spotted knapweed, another thistle, from 80,000 plants to 500.
As Ambrose puts it: “When you have noxious weeds, [it’s] an indication there’s been ground disturbance, from overgrazing, logging, or whatever. A true integrated pest management  strategy looks at how to change land-management practices  to prevent noxious weeds.”
The Klamath National Forest is expected to issue a review of the plan this spring. A public comment period of 45 days will follow.

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