Guest opinion: Roadside spraying? Consider roadside goats
If any of our local public works departments are looking for an environment-friendly, energy-efficient, and noise-free method of weed control, they should try consulting Google.
Not the search engine — the company. Since 2009, Google has been maintaining a field at its headquarters in Mountain View with a herd of about 200 goats. Once a year, a company called California Grazing brings the goats and a border collie to the Google site to mow the lawn, munch on noxious weeds and toxic plants, and fertilize as they graze. According to the Official Google Blog, the goats cost Google about as much as using lawnmowers.
Meanwhile, San Mateo County, the city of Menlo Park, and Caltrans have all been controlling weeds with herbicides. (Although, the city of Menlo Park does use goats in Sharon Hills Park.)
A few years ago, I might have brushed aside last week's guest opinion about weed-control practices in Menlo Park, titled: "No-spray zone sprayed with pesticide." But after a recent experience with a common herbicide known as Milestone — which is being used in La Honda — I have come to appreciate some of the deeper problems with these chemicals.
Last summer, I worked on an organic vegetable farm in southwestern Colorado. In June, my fellow farmers and I began to notice curling, cupping leaves on many of our crops. Convinced that these were signs of a virus, we pulled up all of the affected plants. The tomatoes, potatoes, fava beans, peppers and peas — they all went. We lost almost all of our summer crops.
As it turned out, the symptoms were not due to a virus, but to herbicide drift. A neighboring ranch had been using Milestone to control invasive broad-leaf weeds like thistle. The managers of the ranch told us they had left a 900-foot buffer zone between the spray area and the farm site. Still, soil tests confirmed that the chemical had reached our plants.
As I researched Milestone during the summer, I was shocked to find out how persistent this chemical is and how many problems it has caused for other farmers and gardeners. It turns out that Aminopyralid remains active in the manure of animals that graze sprayed pastures, and farmers and gardeners across the United States have used contaminated manure as fertilizer, leaving their soil unfit for planting for a year or more.
I do not mean to single out Milestone as a particularly harmful herbicide. But I do ask us all to consider what can happen when we use chemicals — Milestone or any other — that persist far beyond the area where they are applied. All parts of our environment are connected, and what we put in one place does not necessarily stay there. In the opinion article, Patty Mayall noted that spraying in La Honda occurs next to open drainage ditches that lead to creeks. This is particularly troubling.
In the progressive Bay Area, there is no reason we should be spraying herbicides on our public lands. Especially when a herd of goats could do the task.
Debbie Lehmann lives in Portola Valley.