Council debates organic pest control

Skeptics cite cost, liability, doubts about effectiveness

Dirk Hart, with Durango Parks and Recreation Department, trims the grass Tuesday morning at Pioneer Park in north Durango. The City Council is debating an ordinance that would limit the use of synthetic pesticides whenever possible in city parks. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/ Durango Herald

Dirk Hart, with Durango Parks and Recreation Department, trims the grass Tuesday morning at Pioneer Park in north Durango. The City Council is debating an ordinance that would limit the use of synthetic pesticides whenever possible in city parks.

Durango City councilors listened to a three-hour debate involving science and calls for decisive action to save the environment to persuade them to adopt a petition-driven ordinance limiting lawn chemicals and synthetic pesticides for city parks and property.

The council’s scheduled vote on the ordinance had not occurred at deadline. If not approved by the council, the proposal for organically treated parks will go to the voters in November unless Organic Managed Parks Durango withdraws its ballot initiative, but that appears unlikely.

Katrina Blair, a member of Organically Managed Parks Durango, indicated her group did not want to wait another “two to five years” for a consensus while the chemical spraying of city fields continues.

Blair said other cities have successfully adopted similar ordinances, but earlier during the meeting, Cathy Metz, the city’s director of parks and recreation, also noted the abundance of weeds in Boulder parks where the lawns are organically treated.

“I don’t think Boulder is the example we want to follow,” she said “They get complaints every year about dandelions.”

A broad coalition representing the San Juan Basin Health Department, Hillcrest Golf Course, pest-control and lawn-care professionals, supporters of playing fields and city staff came out against the organic proposal, citing high costs, legal liabilities of the ordinance, unintended consequences and doubts about whether organic-only treatments are effective.

Scott Craig of Animas Valley Arborists thought it was wrong to limit city options for treating pests.

“If you limit yourself to one philosophy, you set yourself up for failure,” Craig said. “Organic may not work in all cases. Synthetic pesticides may not work in all cases. I think it’s important to have as many tools (as possible) in the toolbox.”

Supporters of the ordinance worried the city was being naive about the motives of the pesticide industry and ignoring environmental dangers.

Gary Lewin, who has a radio show called “Good Dirt Radio,” called pesticides another “drug that is pushed on us.” Lewin noted the incongruity of the city adopting a proclamation to fight breast cancer but not addressing the root causes of the disease.

Supporters also argued from the principles of holistic philosophy and Chinese medicine, and read from nature poems of bees drinking dew from grass and to “open our hearts so the Earth will heal.”

But they addressed the cost of organic care, too, saying organic methods would require less water over time and become more efficient than continual respraying.

Rob Blair, a former geology professor at Fort Lewis College, told the city, “I know you can step up and do better.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com