Dune herbicide spraying prompts protest

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

LANPHERE DUNES – Despite concerns raised by the Northcoast Environmental Center and former supervisor candidate Uri Driscoll, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is planning another round of herbicide spraying to kill European beachgrass at the Lanphere Dunes north of Manila.

As it did in March, the federal agency plans on spraying  a combination of the herbicides glyphosate and imazapyr on a 1.25-acre stand of European beachgrass in an effort to keep the five-year Eureka Littoral Cell Climate Ready Project study on track. The spraying will take place in September or early October depending on the weather, said Eric T. Nelson, refuge manager with the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, of which the Lanphere Dunes are a part.

Uri Driscoll

Uri Driscoll

Concerns about the use of the herbicides were first raised by Arcata resident Driscoll in the spring during his unsuccessful run for Third District supervisor. Driscoll questioned why the agency was using herbicides and whether doing so was permitted. (See Letters to the Editor, page A7.)

Since then, the Northcoast Environmental Center has entered the fray, sending a letter to the agency’s Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge asking that the feds hold off on the spraying until a “public discussion” can  take place.

“A public discussion would certainly be educational and might, in fact, lead to an alternative treatment,” wrote Larry Glass, president of the environmental center’s board of directors in a the June 30 letter to the agency.

Nelson, however, said that no public meetings are planned. The agency plans to proceed with the spraying. If the agency were to significantly expand the scope of its herbicide use, then it would seek public input, he said.

In a letter sent to the environmental center, Nelson states that the use of the herbicides is necessary to maintain the integrity of the study that is underway, and to keep it on schedule.

The study

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is conducting a study of the coastline to see how the dunes closest to the ocean move, change and adapt.

“One of the project’s goals is to gather baseline data on dune topography and vegetation from Little River to Centerville Beach in order to provide decision makers with information to help direct adaptive management and improve resiliency of the dune system in the face of sea level rise and other effects of climate change,” Nelson states in his letter to the environmental center.

“Another aspect of the project is to test the effectiveness of adaptation strategies that arose from our three previous years of topographic and vegetation monitoring at the Lanphere and Ma-le’l Dunes,” Nelson wrote. “In this experiment, we are varying the species composition of planted vegetation following European beachgrass removal to compare the effect on amount and location of sand deposition on the foredune. The hypothesis is that native species of different morphologies allow for more efficient transport of sand onto and over the crest of the foredune – a prerequisite for migration of an intact foredune as sea level rises. We are comparing sand transport and deposition patterns in three different native vegetation types (native dune grass, dune mat, and a mix of both) with a control area consisting of an existing European beachgrass dominated foredune.”

Reason for spraying

According to Nelson, the agency planned on having the California Conservation Corps pull the beach grass last summer, but there were scheduling conflicts due to wildfires. The  agency was able to reduce the amount of beachgrass in its study area, but wasn’t able to kill all the grass.

“To retain the integrity of the experiment, we could not continue hand-pulling which would result in excessive sand movement due to repeated disturbance (therefore compromising the ability to achieve our controlled conditions). Instead, we used an herbicide application to prevent excessive sand movement before planting [of native vegetation] can be accomplished this coming winter (2017),” Nelson wrote.

There are still some beach grass sprouts, hence the upcoming spraying.

‘Categorical exclusion’

The agency considers the use of the herbicides as  “categorical exclusion” under the  National Environmental Policy Act. That means that the agency has determined that use of the herbicides have no significant environmental impact and it doesn’t need to go through a full-blown permitting process.

The Northcoast Environmental Center objects to the use of the “categorical exclusion” in this case due.

“The public had no opportunity to review and comment on the best available science regarding the efficacy and potential impacts of herbicides for this project,” Glass wrote.

“At minimum, use of the herbicide should certainly trigger a more robust public discussion and in this case, where the treatment area was extremely small, alternatives such as volunteers to remove the new sprouts might have been adequate. We cannot find that any such notification or discussion ever occurred,” Glass wrote.

“We wholeheartedly support the restoration of this inherently dynamic ecosystem that shifts as weather and vegetation changes,” wrote Larry Glass, president of the environmental center’s board of directors in the June 30 letter. “However, the minimizing of considerations for herbicides as a method of treatment in the environmental review for the project led to a Finding of No Significant Impact adopted on June 10, 2015. Thus the public had no opportunity to review and comment on the best available science regarding the efficacy and potential impacts of herbicides for this project.”

“Though we understand the difficulty in removing beachgrass as a precursor to restoration with native plants, we question the use of a Categorical Exclusion (“CatEx”) to accomplish this action,” Glass continued.  “The Environmental Assessment/Finding of No Significance for this project contains no mention of herbicide use, and since chemical methods were not considered or proposed, the public has been denied the opportunity to comment on such methods.”



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