I am the vice chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC). The following does not represent the views or opinions of the entire PRC. All members of the town boards and commissions are encouraged to bring their own views and opinions to the table. These are mine.
The issue of herbicides used in our parks has come up for debate, as it does periodically. First of all, I’d like to thank the Safe Organic Sustainable Weeds Action Plan (SOSWAP) group for bringing their concerns to the Ecology Board and Parks and Recreation Commission. Without their concerns and their work with the Ecology Board and Parks and Public Works Department, it is doubtful that the Board of Trustees would have approved the Town of Lyons Integrated Weed Management Plan last April. I agree in principle with their end goal: the elimination of synthetic herbicide usage in our town. I think their voice is important for progress towards this goal.
While I agree in principle, I do not know if it is possible to completely eliminate synthetic usage throughout town in all cases. I believe that we should strive for this, but financial realities will constantly present obstacles. If we switched to all organic or mechanical methods to maintain our current standard of appearance, there would need to be an increase in the workforce. If we dialed back our standard and allowed more weeds to be present, there could be financial impacts to tourism or current grant projects while our town is still recovering.
The elevator pitch, so you can stop reading after this paragraph if you don’t want details
For the last seven years, the town has been slowly recovering and barely hanging on. Any monetary risk that could affect our current grants, businesses that struggle under immense taxes, or town expenses on workforce must be carefully considered. Our infrastructure recovery is almost complete. If we do not adhere to a certain level of maintenance, we could violate our grant agreements and be subject to larger clawbacks. This would be devastating to the town’s solvency. If we put extreme pressure on town staff to deal with this issue without their most effective tools, other public works projects that need resources would suffer. Hiring more staff has not been a popular decision in the past. Getting help from volunteers has not been effective enough to maintain the entire town and re-establish whole ecosystems. Safety in the parks is important, which is why park maintenance follows the best practices from land use managers and ecologists. Science, best practices, and safety do evolve, which is why we took the actions that we did last year. The most unsafe tools were thrown out. There are some remaining tools that people don’t like, but they are necessary for our town to get through the recovery process and establish our new parks. Even Boulder must occasionally use synthetics on infestations. Once we are through the construction and past the warranty period and the watchful eyes of FEMA and other grantors, we can do what we want. But not yet–it’s too soon. Pay attention to board candidates’ views on this issue.
Now for the details
Synthetic herbicides, in certain circumstances, allow for a balance. The two herbicides that have garnered the most negative attention, glyphosate (Round-Up) and 2,4-D (used in Agent Orange, though another ingredient, 2,4,5-T, was proven to be the cause of the worst health effects) will not be used in any public spaces. No fertilizers or herbicides will be used in the turf areas of LaVern M. Johnson (LMJ) Park or Sandstone Park. Less toxic synthetics, such as Indaziflam (Specticle), will be used when other methods are not practical.
One of the most prevalent is pre-emergent application to hardscape areas. Attacking weeds before they germinate in vulnerable areas is important to prevent invasive species from quickly becoming a larger problem, taking many times more resources to combat. Hardscape areas are particularly vulnerable to invasive species because there are no native species to compete with them. Once a foothold is established, these species can spread and affect the native ecosystem. While using a synthetic as the first course of action may seem like a contradiction to the plan, it is the only practical method to prevent germination in these areas. Synthetics can also affect the native ecosystem, but current land management best practices and ecologists recommend this as preferred over allowing invasive species to establish.
The other place that synthetics must be used are in new construction areas. Since 2013, that has been LMJ, Bohn Park, and Lyons Valley River Park (LVRP)–basically our entire park system. Until a natural ecosystem is established in a new area, invasive species must be prevented from competing. This is why they will still be used in LVRP and Bohn Park when necessary. LMJ has matured to a point where this is only needed on hardscape areas such as trails and tent pads.
There have been questions about why herbicide use has increased from the past, such as the late 2000s. Before the flood, all three parks were established ecosystems that could fight invasive species without so much assistance. Once our parks are back to that state, we should be able to dial back synthetic usage to the levels we used then, with bans of the most harmful herbicides in place (which we did not have in the 2000s).
SOSWAP used a grant from the Lyons Community Foundation (LCF) to measure herbicide levels in our parks. A contractor performing warranty work on LMJ was seen broadcast spraying glyphosate in 2018, sparking SOSWAP into action. They have reported that a year and a half after the incident, approximately 75 parts per billion (ppb) remain in each gram of the soil. Without scale, it is hard to know what to make of this number. According to multiple sources online, glyphosate can be found in our food supply at levels between 10 and 150 ppb. While this is far below EPA maximum levels, it is not what we should aspire to. All we can do is learn from this and try to do better, which is why glyphosate has been banned in our town’s public spaces.
There have also been questions about why we cannot take the same steps as Boulder in eliminating most synthetics from public spaces. Why not go for the home run now, and eliminate all potential risks? Boulder began making this push in 2011 and has accomplished much in the last nine years. Why can’t we? Why haven’t we made more progress?
First of all, even Boulder occasionally uses synthetics, such as Imazapic (Plateau) on cheatgrass. Sometimes probiotics are great for health, but sometimes you need antibiotics, even in Boulder.
But the main reason is that we have been fighting for our survival for the last 7 years. Hundreds of our residents lost their homes. Many lost businesses or massive amounts of capital. Our entire infrastructure was destroyed. Every day since then has been a constant battle by our town staff to recover, and that battle is not over.
If you were only inconvenienced for six weeks and work in Boulder or Longmont, you may think the battle is over and that we should stop using that “excuse.” It’s tempting to think that we can suddenly stop struggling and instantly become leaders in environmental stewardship.
We have not completed the restoration of Bohn Park. LVRP needs assistance to compress 20 years of ecosystem maturity into two or three years. The Department of Public Works is not complete. The Fourth Avenue footbridge is not back. The wastewater treatment plant has real issues that need to be resolved. This is to say nothing of attempting to bring back our displaced residents–that battle may never be over. We have a staff that has been working well beyond their salary for seven years now to bring us back. None of this would be possible without their managing grants from numerous agencies to rebuild the town, the parks, and the river. These grants all have specific processes and standards. If one thing goes wrong, we could lose grants. Case in point was the FEMA mistake that almost cost us the entire Bohn Park Phase II project in late 2018. If we violate any terms of the grant, such as standards of care and maintenance, we could be forced to return grant money–which could essentially bankrupt the town.
We also cannot force the contractors that won the bids to simply change methods used in their cost estimates without substantially changing the scope of work. Yes, change orders are possible, but cost differences would have to be covered by the town since the grant amount cannot be changed. The town finances are already stretched to the limit with other infrastructure projects. This could also delay the projects past their grant deadlines–deadlines that have already been extended to the limits. If we miss our deadlines to complete the projects, we will not be reimbursed by the grantor, also endangering the solvency of the town.
There will be a time when we can push for more permaculture and all-organic solutions. That time is after the major projects that consume our town staff’s time have wound down. That time is after the warranty period of LVRP and Bohn Park Phase II are complete in two years–when we are out of danger of having FEMA or one of the other grantors clawback funds because we haven’t maintained the projects they gave us money for. It’s easy to think that they couldn’t possibly take away funds because we decided not to deal with our weeds. Do you really want to take that chance with an organization that is known for asking for clawbacks, known for almost cancelling our project for something that was their own fault? Do you want to bet the town’s solvency against that?
Do you want the staff to focus on bringing these massive projects home, or should they be worrying about managing hundreds of weed pullers, mowers, and weed-eaters? While I understand that some feel safety is worth any amount of money, where do we acquire “any amount of money” so that our residual glyphosate reading in LMJ can now be less than that of a bowl of Special K ? How do we keep our hardscape areas safe from other dangers, such as snakes?
Simply put, we are making progress. The levels of glyphosate in LMJ will continue to drop. After the summer, Bohn Phase II (including the beautiful skatepark) will be done and LVRP’s ecosystem will continue to stabilize.
Please consider candidates who will support town staff with their current processes, which are safer than ecologists’ and land use managers’ recommendations. Please do not elect candidates who will take valuable tools out of town staff’s hands–tools that are necessary to bring us to completion and out of danger of clawbacks or harm our town’s businesses. If there is a vote in November, please vote to allow them to continue to do their very best to complete the recovery with all of the necessary tools.
SOSWAP, keep pushing us, but please have patience and work with us to complete these projects and continue moving towards our common goal.
Thank you for reading.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this Opinion Column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any staff member, contribution writer or the Lyons Recorder.