Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Big Picture

Most of us in North Idaho have a special place in our hearts for wildlife, wildflowers, and wild places. In addition, our economy is heavily dependent upon forage for livestock, healthy forests and quality outdoor recreation. However, there is a quiet, widespread infection threatening our landscapes that could prove as devastating to them as if a serious disease were left untreated in our own bodies. The disease is the systemic spread of noxious weeds. If not properly treated, the results could be permanent and devastating to both our resources and economy.

The host of aggressive foreign noxious weeds gradually dominating our wild lands is fully capable of devastating both native and desirable agricultural plant communities. This infection can be compared to foreign strains of flu, Lyme Disease or West Nile Virus, but unlike our bodies, native plant systems don't have enough time to develop an immunity to fight the onslaught. Human mobility is the source of the infection; it is therefore up to us to isolate and fight the disease.

As with human disease, weed treatments come in a variety of prescriptions that have a range of applications and effectiveness. Examples would be hand pulling of weeds (surgery), planting competing vegetation (increasing immunity), introducing weed eating insects (inoculation) and spraying with herbicides (drugs). Like a doctor prescribing antibiotics and bed-rest for us, using a combination of the weed control options is usually the most effective measure against a weed infection.

Comparison of herbicides to human drugs isn't as much of a stretch as it might seem. Both fit under the general definition of pesticides. As with antibiotics, herbicides aren’t always the best prescription, and can have very serious side effects if used improperly.
However, they are often necessary with the most resilient and virulent weeds.

Everything humans do has some risk of undesirable side-effects, especially when tackling serious problems. However, if we don’t use all the remedies at our disposal, the risks are very high that a lot of our wildlife, recreation areas, and family farms and ranches will be seriously, if not terminally ill. Herbicide use can be controversial. However, just as with antibiotics, they are effective and safe when used appropriately.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

An then there was Silent Spring

Since the publishing of Rachel Carson's groundbreaking book "Silent Spring" in 1962 much has changed. First, nearly all of the pesticides (most were insecticides) identified in the book have been eliminated from use, second, the EPA review process has been established and, finally, also unfortunately, many new noxious weed species have come to our shores. In my re-reading of the book after about 40 years, I found a couple of quotes that are appropriate to highlight here. (1) Near the end of chapter 2, "The Obligation to Endure" she states: "It is not my contention that chemical insecticides [read: pesticides] must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely…..ignorant of their potential for harm." And then in chapter 6, "Earth's Green Mantle" she adds: "Selective spraying….takes advantage of the inherent stability of nature…the object is not to produce grass on roadsides…but to eliminate the tall woody plants…and to preserve all other vegetation". Sounds like Environmentally Sensitive Weed Control to me!